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The Birth of
Augustan Literature
The Age of Kings
753 BC
509 BC
The Roman Republic
146 BC
44 BC
The Empire Begins
31 BC
63 BC-AD 14
Golden Age
Battle of Actium
The Founding of Roma
According to the Roman historian Livy (59 BCE-17CE), the city that we now refer to as
and became the center or the western world emerged from extremely humble
beginnings. Numitor, the king of the neighboring city of Alba, was murdered by his
jealous brother Amulius and the former king’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, was forced to
become a priestess of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth fire. This act guaranteed that
Rhea Silvia would never bare rightful heirs to the throne of Alba. Even so, Rhea Silvia
miraculously became pregnant after a visit from the ancient Italian war god Mars.
Rhea Silvia gave birth to twins. Of course, Amulius was furious and had the babies,
Romulus and Remus, exposed. They were placed in a basket and cast into the River
Tiber which today still flows through the heart of Rome. According to legend, a she-wolf
discovered the abandoned infants on the shore of the Tiber and was found suckling them
by a local farmer. He adopted the twins and they grew to manhood. As adults Romulus
and Remus, having discovered their true identity, returned to Alba and deposed their
devious uncle. The brothers then founded a settlement on the famous seven hills around
the river Tiber.
Archaic Roma
The Saga of Romulus and Remus
The Ascension of Romulus
Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita 1.6:
Romulus and Remus marched with their
men through the midst of the assembly
and saluted their grandfather as king.
From the entire crowd arose a
unanimous shout of assent, thus
ratifying the king’s name and his power.
After entrusting the government of Alba to
Numitor, Romulus and Remus were
seized by a desire to establish a city in
the places where they had been exposed
and raised. The number of Albans and
Latins was more than enough; in
addition to this group, there was also
the sheperds. All of these mean easily
created the hope that Alba and
Lavinium would be small in comparison
with the city that they were founding.
But their thoughts were interrupted by
the ancestral evil that had beset
Numitor and Amulius – desire for
kingship. From quite a harmless
beginning, an abominable conflict
aroese. Since Romulus and Remus were
twins and distinction could not be made
with respect for age, they decided to ask
the protecting gods of the area to
declare by augury who should give his
name to the new city and who should
rule over it aft its foundation. Romulus
took the Palatine and Remus the
Aventine, as the respective areas from
which to take the auspices.
Ab Urbe Condita 1.7
Remus is said to have received the first
augery, six vultures. The augury had
already been announced when twice the
number appeared to Romulus. Each
man was hailed as king by his own
followers. Remus’ men based their
claim to the throne on priority;
Romulus’ followers on the number of
birds. Arguments broke out and the
angry conflict resulted in bloodshed.
Amid the throng, Remus was struck
dead. The more common story is that
Remus leaped over the new walls,
jeering at his brother. He was killed by
the enraged Romulus, who added the
threat, “So perish whoever else shall
leap over my walls.” Thus Romulus
became the sole ruler and the city, so
founded, was given its founder’ s name.
Translation courtesy of:
Livy, The History of Rome. Books 1-5. Translated,
with introduction and notes by Valerie M.
Warrior. Hacket Publishing. Indianapolis,
Cambridge, 2006, pages 12-13
Back to Timeline
The Legacy of Lucius Brutus
For many years after the
foundation of the
settlement of Rome by
Romulus, the “Romans”
were ruled by a more
advanced Italian people
known as the Etruscans.
In 509 BCE, Lucius Brutus
expelled the last of the
Etruscan kings, L.
Tarquinius Superbus. As a
result, the age of kings ends
and the Roman Republic is
Lucretia and the Republic!
The Rape of Lucretia
The story of the Rape of Lucretia
was a popular Roman tale
which explained the downfall of
Tarquinius. The story goes like
this: Roman men spoke of their
wives at home and decided to
return and surprise them. Only
Lucretia, wife to Collatinus,
was behaving in a chaste and
modest fashion while her
husband was gone. Overcome
with desire, Tarquin's son,
Sextus, returned and raped
Lucretia. She told her husband
what had happened and urged
him to avenge her. She then
took her own life. This incident
sparked a revolution. The revolt
was led by Lucius Junius
Brutus and Collatinus, and the
result was that Tarquin was
exiled from Rome.
Back to Timeline
A Brief Look at Roman
Republican Government
The Roman Republic consisted of a senate and two consuls. The
consuls were elected annually. The senate was dominated by
aristocrats or Patricians. Eventually their rule was
challenged by the Plebeians.
[By 300 BCE Plebeians could hold office.]
Tribune had veto power and looked out for the interests of the
Quaestors were prosecutors (later treasurers).
Aediles supervised public buildings and games and corn supplies
Censors took the census and fixed taxes.
Praetors were magistrates junior to consuls and often heard and
made rulings on court cases.
Nota Bene: Once elected to any office, a man became an
automatic member of the Senate.
Birth of a ‘Giant’
Hot Spots
Of Roman
Hot Spots of Expansion
• Over time Rome expanded
in Italy during the 5-4th
centuries BCE. By 279 all
of central and southern
Italy were under their
• Expansion into Sicily led to
conflict with Carthage and
three wars with this North
African Superpower.
• By 146 BCE, after the
Punic and Macedonian
Wars, Rome was master of
the Mediterranean, which
they called “mare nostrum.”
Punic Wars
Between 264 BCE and 146 BCE Rome was involved in a series of wars with
Carthage for control of the Mediterranean.
The First Punic War (264-214 BCE) broke out over control of Sicily. In
238 Rome seized Corsica and Sardinia. Carthage turned to Spain and the
Romans signed a treaty with them not to cross the River Ebro.
The Second Punic War (218-202 BCE) began when the Carthaginian
general Hannibal invaded Sagentum, which had been a Roman ally.
Hannibal crossed the Alps with a large army and besieged Italy. Two consuls
and a large army went up against Hannibal, resulting in one of the worst
defeats in Roman history (Cannae 216 BCE). Southern Italy and Sicily
defected to Hannibal’s side but eventually Rome was successful. Finally
Cornelius Scipio defeated Hannibal and Carthage at the battle of Zama in
202 BCE. Rome now turned to the eastern Mediterranean since Philip V of
Macedon had allied himself with Hannibal.
After the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE) and the defeat of the
Macedonians, Rome was the undisputed master of the Mediterranean.
Growing Pains
Rome was originally a
republic of farmers.
Citizen-soldiers served
during times of war. Slaves
and wealth from the Punic
and Macedonian wars and
long periods of time away
from farms led to neglect of
farms. Subsequently
landowners began buying
large tracts of land and
forming latifundia (Large
landed estates owned by the
Roman aristocracy). This
caused a variety of social
problems such as:
•By 146 BCE Rome was master of the
Mediterranean but internal and
external problems would lead to the end
of the Republic.
1. Surplus of cheap slave
2. Migration of farmers to
3. Farmers had no land.
4. Rome had no way of
raising an army, since land
was a prerequisite for
military service.
Attempts at Reform and
the Decline of
Republican Rome
The Decline of the Republic:
And the Rise of the General
The Gracchi:
The Reformers
The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius
and Gaius, used the position of
Tribune to try and improve the lot
of the poor and the landless. They
were both murdered by the
opposition in 132 and 123 BCE.
Some see the Gracchi as acting for
their own good instead of interests
of the less fortunate. Regardless of
their motivations, this episode and
self interest of other ambitious
politicians and generals eventually
led to the downfall of the
Republican system.
More Reformers and Tyrants
Sulla: Dictator Gone Bad?
Sulla: 138-78 BCE
As dictator, Sulla introduced the device
know as proscription. This was the
publication of a list of “enemies” of the
state and offered rewards for their
capture or death. This set about a
bloody precedent for future leaders.
Problems in Africa required a return of
Roman soldiers to this region. Since the
army had been depleted, the general
Marius promised rewards to jobless
men to raise a fighting force.
Italian cities expressed discontent with
Rome. [The general Sulla put an end to
the Social Wars.]
Sulla and Marius wanted to fight in
Africa. Marius was chosen but Sulla
threatened Rome and became dictator.
He had unlimited power and put many
people to death.
After Sulla’s threat, it was clear that the
Senate was impotent and that generals
ruled. Sulla died in 79 BCE.
The Reforms of Gaius Marius
• Gaius Marius, whom Sulla finally overpowered installed a
number of reforms that drastically changed the organization
of the Roman army. He offered the masses permanent
employment with pay as professional soldiers.
• This gave the soldiers the opportunity to gain both spoils of
war and land and encouraged personal loyalty to Roman
generals instead of the state.
• Terms of service: 20-25 years.
• Reconstructed the legion and supplied soldiers with gear paid
for with state resources.
Back to Timeline
The First Triumvirate
Between 79 and 59 Pompey and Crassus, each backed by soldiers
competed for power and domination. They eventually formed what
came to be called the First Triumvirate. This political union placed
Roman provinces at their command. Pompey even married
Julia, the daughter of Caesar to cement his relationship with
The Demise of the Triumvirate
The Republic Ends
Crassus joined the Triumvirate in an
attempt to help business associates who
had overbid on government contracts.
Crassus was killed at Parthia in 53 BCE.
Julia, wife of Pompey and daughter of
Caesar, dies and Pompey joins the cause
of the Senate against Caesar. Pompey is
eventually defeats the Pompey and the
Senate at Pharsulus in 48 BCE.
After his conquest of Gaul, Caesar crosses
the Rubicon River in 49 proclaiming
“The die is cast.” Caesar emerged as the
sole ruler of the Roman world.
Caesar and Egypt
After his defeat at Pharsalus, Pompey fled to the court
of Ptolemy XII of Egypt. Ptolemy presented Pompey’s
head to Julius Caesar. This act seemed to sway
Caesar’s support to Ptolemy’s younger sister Cleopatra
VII. After a revolt in 51 BCE, Cleopatra assumed rule
of Egypt, and Egypt became a client kingdom to Rome.
Cleopatra and Caesar
Plutarch on Caesar in Gaul
It was Caesar himself who inspired and cultivated this spirit, this passion for distinction among his men. He did it in the
first place because he made it clear, by the ungrudging way in which he would distribute rewards and honors, that he
was not amassing a great fortune from his wars in order to spend it on his personal pleasures or on any life of selfindulgence; instead he was keeping it, as it were, in trust, a fund open to all for the reward of valor, and his own share
in all this wealth was no greater than what he bestowed on his soldiers who deserved it. And secondly, he showed that
there was no danger which he was not willing to face, no form of hard work from which he excused himself.
So far as his fondness for taking risks went, his men, who knew his passion for distinction, were not surprised at it;
but they were amazed at the way in which he would undergo hardships which were, it seemed, beyond his physical
strength to endure. For he was a slightly built man, had a soft and white skin, suffered from headaches and was
subject to epileptic fits. (His first epileptic attack took place, it is said, in Córdoba.) Yet so far from making his poor
health an excuse for living an easy life, he used warfare as a tonic for his health. By long hard journeys, simple diet,
sleeping night after night in the open, and rough living he fought off his illness and made his body strong enough to
resist all attacks.
As a matter of fact, most of the sleep he got was in chariots or in litters: rest, for him, was something to be used for
action; and in the daytime he would be carried round to the garrisons and cities and camps and have sitting with him
one slave who was trained to write from dictation as he went along, and behind him a soldier standing with a sword.
He traveled very fast. For instance on his first journey from Rome, he reached the Rhône in seven days. He had
been an expert rider from boyhood. He had trained himself to put his hands behind his back and then, keeping them
tightly clasped, to put his horse to its full gallop. And in the Gallic campaigns he got himself into the habit of dictating
letters on horseback, keeping two secretaries busy at once..
Translation courtesy of John Dryden.
The Seduction of Rome
To the shock of the Roman
world, Julius Caesar became
romantically involved with the
foreign Egyptian queen and
the union even produced a son,
Julius Caesar was now the most
powerful man in the world.
Upon completed military victories in
Gaul, Egypt, Pontus and Africa,
Caesar was awarded a military
triumph in the city of Rome.
Cleopatra was believed to have
been in Rome with the still
married Caesar for the
In February of 44 BCE, the Roman
Senate named him dictator for life.
On the Ides of March 44
BCE, Marcus Junius
Brutus with the aid of a
number of conspirators
stabbed Caesar to death
in hopes of restoring the
Roman Republic to its
previous state. Instead,
chaos ensues.
Seutonius’ Account
of Caesar’s Death.
Cleopatra flees to Egypt and
the Second Triumvirate
The Second Triumvirate
The assassins naively believed the Republic would arise from the ashes of Julius
Caesar’s funeral pyre. Instead chaos followed, with Marc Antony and Caesar’s adopted
son Octavian struggling to succeed Caesar. In 43 CE they joined Lepidus and formed a
new triumvirate that enabled them to make laws, name consuls but more importantly, to
control Rome’s armies. Soon they issued death warrants for their enemies, including the
great Cicero. Many had their lands confiscated and sold. These proscriptions
eliminating enemies of the triumvirs but also supplied resources to pay for their military
campaigns. The first order of business included avenging Caesar’s death. Brutus and
Cassius were defeated by Antony and Octavian at Phillipi in 42 BCE. Both conspirators
committed suicide, leaving the triumvirs to pacify the East and resettle the soldiers.
Eventually mutual distrust and the lust for power led to antagonism between
Antony, now aided by Cleopatra of Egypt, and Octavian. However, at Brundisum,
Antony and Octavian reached a compromise. Antony married Octavian’s sister Octavia
to cement their relationship and left for Athens with his new wife. The triumvirate was
renewed for another five years in 37 BCE. Lepidus tried to take Sicily, but failed
because Octavian was able to win over the loyalty of Lepidus’ troops.
Antony became more involved with Cleopatra, who by 36 BCE had had
three children with him. His humiliating defeat in Parthia and Egyptian
marriage to Cleopatra were portrayed in Rome as unmanly submission to the
queen. His subsequent divorce of Octavia in 32 BCE and the so-called
“Donations of Alexandria,” further damaged his reputation. Octavian played
upon Roman xenophobia to further degrade Antony’s reputation. Octavian
claimed Antony wished to make Cleopatra queen of Rome. His propaganda
campaign damaged the reputation of Antony to the point that brilliant
general and politician has been called “the triple pillar of the world
transformed into a strumpet’s fool” (Shakespear, Antony and Cleopatra,
1.1.13-14). By 32 BCE the triumvirate was over. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra
in 31 BCE. The stage was set for war.
The Donations of
To the anger of Rome,
Antony bequeathed much of
the territory of the Near
East to Cleopatra and their
three children.
Egypt, Ceole Syria,
and Cyprus
Alexander Helios
Armenia, Media, and
Cleopatra Selene
Libya and Cyrenaica
Norhern Syria,
Phoenicia, and Cilicia
Back to Timeline
The Seduction of
By 33 BCE the 2nd Triumvirate ended. The Senate declared war on
Cleopatra. On the morning of September 2, 31 BCE, the forces of Octavian,
commanded by Marcus Agrippa and the forces of Antony and Cleopatra met
on the Ionian Sea near the Roman colony of Actium in Greece. The outcome
of this epic battle would change the course of world history.
The Forces of Antony and Cleopatra
The forces of Antony and Cleopatra consisted of 230 warships, mosty
quinqueremes as seen above, 60 Egyptian warships, 2,000 archers, and
about 20,000 legionary marines. These quinqueremes could actually
weight up to three tons thanks to the square-cut timbers and bronze armor
plates which lined their bows.
Octavian’s Forces
The forces of Octavian and Agrippa
consisted of about 400 Liburnian warships.
These vessels were armed with better
trained and fresher crews of soldiers. These
ships could also out maneuver the heavier
ships of Marc Antony.
Octavian also held
16,000 legionary
marines and 3,000
archers at his
Virgil’s Description of
the Battle of Actium
Because of an outbreak of
malaria, Antony lost many
of his soldiers and was
unable to fully man his
warships. This took away
his ability to use his
quinqeremes to affectively
ram the ships of Agrippa.
Antony was forced into
leaving the protection of
the Gulf of Ambracia and
face Agrippa in the Ionian
Sea. This resulted in his
Cleopatra’s End
Cleopatra escaped the Battle of
Actium and returned to Egypt.
Realizing that all was lost, she
committed suicide supposedly from
the bite of a deadly snake, the asp.
The Death of Antony
Marc Antony actually died before Cleopatra. He falsely learned that she
was already dead and then committed suicide himself by running onto his
own sword. Mortally wounded, he was carried before Cleopatra and,
according to tradition, died in her arms.
Write Your Name in the Hieroglyphs
Used in the Time of Cleopatra!
Back to Timeline
Octavian “Augustus” and the
Pax Romana
After the defeat of Antony
and Cleopatra, thus
ending the civil wars
that had wreaked
havoc on Rome,
Augustus set his sights
on rebuilding Rome.
The Pax Romana, or
the Roman Peace (27
BCE-180 CE),
resulted in a political,
economic, social and
cultural renaissance.
Augustus Praised in Horace’s Poetry
The Restoration of the “Republic”
The Flourishing of Latin
Literature under Augustus
During this period of Roman peace, Augustus as a
patron of the arts provided a stable environment
for the flourishing of some of the greatest writers
and works of literature in history. Thus, under the
rule of Augustus, a Golden Age of Latin Literature
Poets such as Horace and Virgil created
extraordinary works. Others closely connected to
the emperor included Livy, Propertius, Catullus
and Ovid.
Augustus’ Humor
Praise of Augustus as a patron
of the arts
Quintus Horatius Flaccus
Horace 65-8 wrote many works,
including the Odes, which reflected
his admiration for the country life.
Epodes also praise rural life.
His sense of humor is revealed in the
Satires while his close relationship
with the imperial family resulted in
his brilliant Carmen Saculare.
Read a Selection from Horace’s Epodes
From Horace’s Epodes
beatus ille qui procul negotiis
ut prisca gens mortalium
paterna rura bobus exercet suis
solutus omni faenore.
neque excitatur classico miles truci
neque horret iratum mare
forumque vitat et superba civium
potentiorum limina.
aut in reducta valle mugientium
prospectat errantes greges
aut pressa puris mella condit amphoris
aut tondet infirmas oves.
libet iacere modo sub antiqua ilice
modo in tenaci gramine.
labuntur altis interim rivis aquae
queruntur in silvis aves
fontesque lymphis obstrepunt
somnos quod invitet leves.
The man is blessed who far from
business affairs, like the ancient
race of men, works his family farm
with his oxen, loosened from all
And neither is he aroused by the harsh
trumpet as a soldier and neither
does he fear the angry sea,
And he avoids the forum and the
proud doorways of the more
powerful. Either within a remote
valley of lowing cattle he watches
over the wandering herds,
Or stores the pressed honey in clean
jars and shears weak sheep.
He desires now to lie beneath the
ancient oak and now in the
clinging grass.
Meanwhile the waters slip within deep
rivers, birds sing in the forests,
and the springs murmur with
flowing waters which invites light
Virgil (70 BCE-19 CE) is
considered by most as the
greatest Roman poets. His
Eclogues comments on the
eviction of farmers from
their lands, and his
Georgics praise nature.
These works glorified
Augustus by recalling the
agricultural origins of
Rome and the moral,
political and economic
rebirth of Rome in the
aftermath of the civil wars.
The Aeneid
Virgil’s Aeneid has been haled as one of the greatest works of literature. The epic
recounts the tragic end of the city Troy and the Trojan prince, Aeneas, who rescues his
family from the burning city and embarks on an epic quest ordained by the gods to
found a new Troy. After years of aimless sufferings, Aeneas arrives in Italy and founds
the Roman race.
Aeneas represents
the Latin idea of
pietas—duty to the
gods, family, and
The Emperor Augustus actually commissioned
Virgil to write his epic in hopes of causing a
resurgence in traditional Roman values.
I sing of arms and of the
man, who first from
the shores of Troy,
tossed about by fate to
Italy, came to
Lavinian shores—he
was tossed about
greatly both over
lands and on the deep
by the force of the
gods above, all on
account of the savage
anger of Juno…
Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Ovid’s most notable work
was his Metamorphoses
which deals with early
creation stories and
countless tales of love,
woe, and change among,
humans, heroes, gods,
and goddess. Most of the
mythological tales we
study today come down to
us from Ovid’s
magnificent work.
Daphne and Apollo
After publishing his scandalous “Art of Love”
and his involvement in a court scandal,
Augustus banished Ovid to the Red Sean in 8
Simon P. Ellis. Graeco-Roman Egypt. Shire Egyptology, 1992.
Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth (Editors), The Oxford Classical
Dictionary. The Ultimate Reference Work On The Classical World. Third
Edition. Oxford, 1999.
Robert B. Kebric. The Roman People. Third Edition. Mayfield Publishing,
Ronald Mellor, The Roman Historians. London and New York: Routledge,
Ronald Mellor, Augustus and the Creation of the Roman Empire: A Brief
History with Documents. The Bedford Series in History and Culture, 2005.
Ronald Mellor and Marni McGee, The Ancient Roman World. The World
in Ancient Times. Oxford, 2004.
Nigel Rodgers, Consultant: Dr. Hazel Dodge FSA, Life in Ancient Rome.
Art And Literature, Religion And Mythology, Sport And Games, Science
And Technology: The Fascinating Social History Of Senators, Slaves And
The People Of Rome. Anness Publishing, 2007
Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors. The Reign-By-Reign
Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome. Thames and Hudson, 1997.
Chris Scarre, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome, Penguin,
Oliver Taplin, (Editor) Literature in the Roman World, Oxford, 2004.
Primary Documents
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Augustus Has Brought Peace. 13 BCE. Translated by
Ronald Mellor, 2005. Reproduced courtesy of Ronald Mellor.
Titus Livius. The History of Rome. Books 1-5. Translated, with Introduction And
Notes, By Valerie M. Warrior. Hacket Publishing, 2006.
Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius, On Augustus’ Sense of Humor. Saturn., IV, xiv,
Second Century CE. Translated by Ronald Mellor, 2005. Reproduced courtesy of
Ronald Mellor.
Mestrius Plutarchus. The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. The Dryden
Translation. Great Books of the Western World 13. Second Edition, Mortimer J. Adler,
Editor in Chief Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1990
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars. On the Ides of March. Second
Century CE. Translated by Ronald Mellor. Reproduced courtesy of Ronald Mellor.
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars. On The Restoration of the Republic.
Second Century CE. Translated by Ronald Mellor, 2005. Reproduced courtesy of
Ronald Mellor.
Publius Virgilius Maro, A Description of the Battle of Actium. 19 BCE. Translated by
Ronald Mellor. Reproduced courtesy of Ronald Mellor.
Publius Vergilius Maro, Aeneid, Book 1, 1-19. Translated by Bryan Butler. Reproduced
courtesy of Bryan Butler.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio , On How Augustus Was Patron of the Arts. 23 BCE.
Translated by Ronald Mellor, 2005. Reproduced courtesy of Ronald Mellor.