At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

23 September 2019

Augustus - the first Emperor of Rome

Great nephew of Julius Caesar became powerful leader


A statue of Augustus by an unknown sculptor, in the Vatican Museum in Rome
A statue of Augustus by an unknown
sculptor, in the Vatican Museum in Rome
Augustus, who history recognises as the first Emperor of Rome, was born Gaius Octavius on this day in 63 BC in Rome.

He was to lead Rome’s transformation from republic to empire during the stormy years following the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar, the dictator of the Roman Republic.

The son of a senator and governor in the Roman Republic, Octavius was related to Caesar through his mother, Atai, who was Caesar’s niece. The young Octavius was raised in part by his grandmother Julia Caesaris - Caesar’s sister - in what is now Velletri, about 40km (25 miles) southeast of Rome.

Octavius was only 17 when he learned of his great uncle’s death, although he had begun to wear the toga - a symbol of manhood - at 16 and fought alongside Caesar in Hispania (Spain), where his bravery prompted Caesar to name him in his will as his heir and successor.

When Caesar died, his allies rallied around Octavius - now known as Octavian - against Mark Antony, his rival for power, and troops loyal to Octavian defeated Antony’s army in northern Italy. However, the future emperor stepped back from seeking to eliminate Mark Antony, preferring that they formed an alliance.

In 43 BC, Octavian, Antony and Marcus Aemilus Lepidus established the Second Triumvirate. They divided Rome’s territories between them, with Antony given the East, Lepidus Africa and Octavian the West. In 41 BC, Antony began his famous romantic and political alliance with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt.

The Battle of Actium, as depicted by the 17th century Flemish painter Laureys a Castro
The Battle of Actium, as depicted by the 17th century
Flemish painter Laureys a Castro
A decree of the Senate forced Antony to marry Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor, but his affair with Cleopatra continued. In 32 BC he divorced Octavia, at which Octavian declared war on Cleopatra.

The conflict culminated the following year in the naval Battle of Actium, in which Octavian’s fleet, under his admiral Agrippa, defeated Antony’s ships. Cleopatra sent her navy in support of her lover before the two fled, returning to Egypt, where both in turn committed suicide.

With Lepidus already ousted from the Triumvirate some years earlier, Octavian was now Rome’s undisputed ruler.

It was expected he would follow Caesar's example and make himself dictator, but instead, in 27 BC, Octavian founded the Roman Principate, a monarchy-type system of government, the head of which held power for life. He took the name Augustus, meaning 'lofty' or 'serene'.

He controlled all aspects of the Roman state, with the army under his direct command.  The victory at Actium had enabled him to seize Cleopatra’s assets, which he used to pay his soldiers handsomely, securing their loyalty.  To keep the Senate and ruling classes onside, he kept some of the laws of the Roman Republic intact, while he won over the people by embarking on a large programme of reconstruction and social reform, which saw the city of Rome transformed with impressive new buildings.

Frescoes adorning the walls of what is accepted to have been the villa Augustus built for himself on Rome's Palatine Hill
Frescoes adorning the walls of what is accepted to have been the villa
Augustus built for himself on Rome's Palatine Hill
By creating a standing army, Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana, during which Rome avoided large-scale conflict for more than 200 years, although there were numerous smaller wars on the Empire's frontiers in a campaign of expansion designed to push back ‘barbarian’ enemies.

At home, Augustus reformed taxation, developed networks of roads, created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome and established the Praetorian Guard.

Augustus died in 14 AD. He had been married three times, first to Mark Antony’s stepdaughter Clodia Pulchra, then to Scribonia, who bore his only child, Julia the Elder. He divorced in 39 BC to marry Livia Drusilla, who had two sons, Tiberius and Drusus.

He had Tiberius briefly marry his daughter, after which, in the absence of a male blood heir, he adopted Tiberius as son and successor, his nephew Marcellus and his grandsons Gaius and Lucius having pre-deceased him.

His remains were buried in a mausoleum, the ruins of which are in the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in the Campo Marzio district of Rome, near the Tiber river.

The Corso della Repubblica in the centre of Velletri, the town outside Rome where Augustus's family lived
The Corso della Repubblica in the centre of Velletri, the
town outside Rome where Augustus's family lived
Travel tip:

Velletri, from which Augustus’s family originated, is a town of around 50,000 inhabitants outside Rome in the Alban Hills. It has a fourth century cathedral, the Cathedral of San Clemente, which was originally built over the ruins of a pagan temple, but was rebuilt in the 17th century and given a Renaissance-style portal.  Once a popular place for Rome's wealthiest to build their country villas, the town suffered extensive damage during bombing raids in the Second World War, although the cathedral survived.  In the 15th century, Velletri had the dubious claim to fame of being the host to what is believed to have been the world's first pawnshop.

Roman remains at Largo di Torre Argentina in the heart of Rome, where Julius Caesar is said to have been slain
Roman remains at Largo di Torre Argentina in the heart of
Rome, where Julius Caesar is said to have been slain
Travel tip:

The place where Julius Caesar was killed is in a square in Rome called Largo di Torre Argentina in the Campo de’ Fiori area of the city and there are still remains from the period there. During demolition work in 1927, a marble statue was found and excavations brought to light a holy area with four temples and part of a theatre, next to which was the Curia Pompeia where Caesar was stabbed.

More reading:

The murder of Julius Caesar

The assassination of Caligula by the Praetorian Guard

The death of Nero

Also on this day:

1597: The birth of Francesco Barberini, the inquistor who refused to condemn Galileo

1943: Mussolini proclaims his Italian Social Republic

1956: The birth of World Cup hero Paolo Rossi


Home

No comments:

Post a Comment