Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Making of an Emperor: Augustus (27 B.C. - 14 A.D.)

Today's photos:


1. Caesar's assassination took place just behind this little round temple in Largo Argentina.

2. This bronze statue of Augustus stands in front of his forum.

3. A partial view of the ruins in the Forum of Augustus.

4. The Ara Pacis monument celebrates the period of peace established by Augustus.

5. A modern bust of Augustus in the Ara Pacis complex.

6. After his victory over Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian was honored with a triumphal march through the Roman Forum.

7. The Pantheon was built by Agrippa in honor of Octavian's famous victory.


Gaius Octavius (Octavian), the 19 year-old son of a banker from Velletri, was the grandnephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. In the spring of 44 B.C., news of Caesar's assassination on the Ides of March reached the young man who decided to return immediately to Rome. He found the city in turmoil. Caesar's murderers were considered heroes and restorers of the Republic by the Senate, but the common people saw things differently. During the emotion-filled funeral of Caesar in the Roman Forum, many of those in attendance broke away, giving chase to the assassins and setting fire to their homes.




The dominant figure in this chaotic situation was Mark Antony, one of the assassinated dictator's generals and his colleague in the consulship; he was considered by most people to be the political heir of Caesar. The young Octavian, however, had his own ideas on the subject; he was determined to transform himself from the private to the political heir of Caesar.


Octavian's big opportunity came a year later. Brutus, one of Caesar's assassins, was under siege by Mark Antony and his army in the town of Modena in northern Italy. The Senate, meantime, sent an army led by the two consuls to free Brutus from Mark Antony's siege. At the same time Octavian enrolled a private army at his own expense (a totally illegal act) and marched north from Rome.


Two things happened which gave Octavian his big opportunity. First, the two consuls were soon killed, leaving their army leaderless. Second, Antony was forced to abandon his army and retreat into Gaul, leaving another army without a leader. Octavian was quick to take advantage of this leadership void, adding to his private army those of the consuls and of Antony.




Now in a position of strength with his three armies, Octavian demanded that the Senate appoint him consul, hoping to legitimize his grab for power. The senators refused, citing Octavian's youth. The young general, in defiance of the senate's refusal, led his armies to Rome and obtained the consulship by force. He then formed an alliance, a triumvirate, with Antony and Lepidus, a former consul loyal to Caesar. The first item on the agenda of the triumvirate was to defeat the two leaders of the assassins: Brutus and Cassius, which it did in 42 B.C. at the town of Philippi in Greece. The two assassins were forced to commit suicide.




The triumvirate disbanded when Lepidus withdrew, accepting the post of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest), while Octavian and Antony divided the Roman world between the two of them. Antony took power in the East and Octavian in the West, including the city of Rome. They further sealed their alliance with a marriage between Antony and Octavia, the sister of Octavian. The political marriage however, lasted only until Antony saw, and fell madly in love with, Cleopatra. He soon repudiated Octavia and married Cleopatra in an ostentatious Eastern rite which obviously turned the Senate and the people of Rome against him.




Antony's marriage to Cleopatra marked the official end of his alliance with Octavian. A decisive battle between the two former allies took place in 31 B.C. at Actium where Antony was defeated in a great naval battle. Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian returned to Rome and celebrated his victory with a triumphal procession through the Roman Forum. Four years later Agrippa, the consul and son-in-law of Augustus, would have the Pantheon built in honor of that victory.




Octavian now had full power. He cleverly kept the Senate intact but deprived it of any real power. His intent , in great part realized, was to put an end to the bloody civil wars which had plagued Rome for the previous fifty years. In 27 B.C. the Senate conferred on Octavian the honorary title of Augustus. It was the beginning of the Roman Empire, the so-called Golden Age and the Pax Augusta (Augustan Peace). The most famous monument built to recall the establishment of peace by Augustus is the Ara Pacis Augustae (The Altar of the Augustan Peace), which still exists in Rome today. (See Rome: Sights and Insights, Chapter 2: Ara Pacis Augustae).


Augustus, the former Octavian, would rule his empire for the next 41 years, until his death in 14 A.D., the two thousandth anniversary of which Rome is celebrating this year. 


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