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The Timeline of the Life of Octavian,|
Historically Caesar Augustus was far more important than his great uncle Julius Caesar. While
Octavian would never have rose to power without the bequest given to him by Julius Caesar, if
Octavian had not won the Roman Civil Wars and ruled Rome as the Emperor Caesar Augustus the
world would little remember Julius Caesar, probably no more than it remembers Lucius Cornelius Salla, another
victorious general and Roman dictator. Octavian was a competent politician and military
commander but his real talent was as an administrator. He introduced the administrative
reforms that led to the Pax Romana with its flourishing of trade and the arts. He
did this while ostensibly maintaining the form of the Roman Republic while in actuality
creating the Roman Empire. He did this through diligent hard work in spite of bouts of
ill health and personal tragedies.
- 63 BCE: Gaius Octavius was born on September 23rd in the city of Velletri southeast of Rome.
His mother Atia was the daughter of Julia, the sister of Julius Caesar.
Octavius' father had been appointed Roman senator and was elected praetor. This office was judicial
and second only to consul in status in the Roman government.
- 59 BCE: The father of Octavius dies.
- 51 BCE: Octavius at age 12 delivers the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia. He was
encouraged to make this public speech by his great uncle Gaius Julius Caesar.
- c. 47 BCE: Octavius was made a member of the board of Roman priests, pontifices. His
great uncle, Julius Caesar, became the chief priest, Pontifex Maximus.
- 46 BCE: Octavius accompanied Julius Caesar in the public precession celebrating the victory
of Caesar over his opponents in Africa.
- 45 BCE: Octavius accompanied Caesar on his military expedition to Spain to defeat and destroy
the sons of Pompey, his defeated rival, who were trying to perpetuate their father's opposition
- 44 BCE: Octavius went to Albania to complete his academic and military training. While there
he learned of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius returned to Rome and found that Caesar's
will makes him Caesar's adopted son and heir to his political and personal fortune. He was advised
not to accept the bequest because he was only 18 and little prepared to deal with the hazards
of Roman power politics. Nevertheless he did accept.
Caesar's will called for games for the entertainment of the public. Such things require funds,
but Mark Antony controls Caesar's funds and refuses to grant Octavius access to those funds.
Octavius borrowed funds to comply with Caesar's will and his efforts garnered public support for
Octavius. His efforts to fulfill Caesar's will gains him considerable support among the troops
Mark Antony was defying the will of the Senate and the Senate, led by Circero, called
upon Octavius for support against Antony. The Senate makes Octavius a senator even though he
is far too young to qualify. The troops of Octavius joined with troops which the Senate has at its
command. The combined forces drove Antony out of Italy into Gaul.
In the battle with Anthony's forces the two elected Consuls of Rome were killed. Octavius's troops
demanded that the Senate confer the title of Consul on Octavius. Octavius was officially recognized
as the son of Julius Caesar. He then took the name Gaius Julius Caesar (Octavianus). He was more
generally known as Octavian during this period.
- 43 BCE: Octavian and Antony agreed to a sharing of power. They, along with Lepidus who was
the Pontifex Maximus, are designated by the Senate as a Triumvirate with dictatorial
powers for five years. Octavian, Antony and Lepidus agreed to eliminate those Senators and
members of the Roman aristocracy whom any one of the three considered a threat to public order.
Altogether 300 senators and two thousand lesser level aristocrats are executed. Cicero,
a supporter of Octavian, was designated for execution by Antony under this arrangement.
- 42 BCE: The Senate deemed Julius Caesar as having been a god. This enhanced Octavian's
status still further.
Antony and Octavian undertook a military expedition to the east to defeat Brutus and Cassius.
In two battles at Philippi the troops of Brutus and Cassius are defeated and Brutus and Cassius
kill themselves. The Triumvirate then divide up the Empire. Anthony gets the east and Gaul.
Lepidus gets Africa and Octavian gets the west except for Italy which was to be under common
control of the three.
In Italy Octavian faced a local war where he intended to grant land for settlement to the
soldiers of his army. His forces defeated the local opposition at the city now known as
The island of Sicily was under the control of the son of Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, which gave him command
of the shipping lanes.
Octavian tried to defuse conflict with Sextus by entering into a marriage with Scribonia,
a relative of Sextus. This ploy did not work. Sextus tried to establish an agreement with
Antony against the interests of Octavian. Antony rejected Sextus' offer of an alliance.
Octavian later divorced Scribonia.
The allianace of Octavian and Antony was renewed and further confirmed by Antony marrying
the sister of Octavian, Octavia. This political marriage also did not endure. Antony was
still enamored of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt.
- 39 BCE: Julia, Octavian's daughter was born. A few days after her birth Octavian divorces
her mother, Scribonia.
- 38 BCE: Octavian marries Livia Drusilla, a member of the Roman aristocracy. Livia Drusilla
had only recently divorced her husband and was pregnant with her second son, leading to the
presumption that a romantic relationship
had already been in existence between Ocatavian and Livia and speculation that perhaps
Octavian might have been the father of Livia's second son, Drusus. Her older son was Tiberius.
- 37 BCE: Octavian negotiates an arrangement with Antony in which Antony supplies Octavian
with ships for Octavian's expedition against Sextus in Sicily in return for Octavian
supplying troops to Antony for his proposed invasion of the Parthian empire in the east.
The Triumvirate was renewed for another five years.
- 36 BCE: Octavian was fortunate to have a close and trusted friend from his childhood, Marcus Agrippa,
who was a military genius. Under Agrippa's command Octavian's fleet defeated Sextus.
Lepidus the member of the Triumvirate who controlled the Roman territories in African
attempted to challenge Octavian. Lepidus was defeated but forced into retirement instead
of being executed.
- 35-33 BCE: Octavian with Agrippa fights campaigns in the Balkan peninsula. The formal
powers of the Triumvirate end in 33 BCE.
- 32 BCE: Antony divorces Octavia, Octavian's sister. Octavian reveals that Anthony's
will calls for the granting of Roman territory in the east to the Cleopatra. Furthermore
it reveals plans for transferring the capital of the empire from Rome to Alexandria.
The sympathy and allegiance of the Roman public are with Octavian against Antony.
- 31 BCE: Antony decides to bring his forces to the western side of Greece. Cleopatra
accompanies him. Octavian sends a military expedition under the command of Agrippa to
challenge Antony's control of Greece. Octavian joins Agrippa and their fleet bottles up
Antony and Cleopatra's fleet in the Gulf of Ambracia. A naval battle ensues at Actium in
which Cleopatra, for fear of being captured, pulls her ships out of the battle and heads
back to Egypt thus ensuring the defeat of Anthony's forces. Anthony and some of his ships
escape from the battle and follow Cleopatra.
- 30 BCE: Octavian invades Egypt; Anthony commits suicide and Cleopatra follows suit
in a tragic sequence of events. (See Cleopatra.) Cleopatra's
son by Julius Caesar is sent into hiding on the Red Sea coast of Egypt but Octavian's track
him down and kill him. Octavian annexed Egypt into the Roman Empire and put it under
his direct control.
- 29 BCE: Octavian closed the doors of the temple of Janus. These temple doors were to
be open in times of war and closed in times of peace. According to Livy they had been closed
only once before in Roman history.
- 28 BCE: A census of the Roman population was conducted. Octavian reduced the size of the
Senate from 1000 members to 800. Octavian was appointed the president of the Senate.
Although Octavian was all powerful he made a determined effort to cloth his rule in the
semblance of republican traditions. Octavian was awarded the name "Augustus" and thereafter
he was referred to as Caesar Augustus.
- 25 BCE: Tribes in the Alps were subdued. The Celtic kingdom in what is now central Turkey
(Anatolia) was annexed into the Empire.
- 23 BCE: Octavian fell seriously ill. He had had bouts of sickness before but not as severe
as this one was. The illness may have been typhoid fever.
Marcellus, the husband of Octavian's daughter Julia died. Marcellus was the son of
Octavian's sister Octavia. This left Octavian without
an obvious male heir to his power within his family. His friend Agrippa was the only
man who could maintain the loyalty of the army as his successor. Agrippa already had superior
status to the elected proconsols of Rome and had been sent to the east as a deputy of
Caesar Augustus to deal with problems there.
- 22 BCE: Caesar Augustus traveled to Sicily, Greece and the Roman province of Asia (Anatolia)
to reorganize the administrations there.
- 21 BCE: Agrippa marries Julia.
- 20 BCE: The empires of Rome and Parthia reached a peace agreement in which Parthia accepted
the Armenia as being within the Roman sphere of influence.
- 19 BCE: Social legislation promoted by Caesar Augustus was passed by the Roman Senate
which encouraged marriaged, provided penalties for adultery and discouraged extravagant
spending. This reflected the puritanical side of Augustus.
- c. 17 BCE: Agrippa and Julia had two sons, one born in 20 BCE and the other in 18 BCE.
Augustus eager to have male heirs to whom
he could pass on his power adopted those two sons and renamed them Gaius Caesar and
- 16-15 BCE: Augustus sent his two stepsons (Livia's children from her first marriage),
now grown men, as leadeers of a military expedition into what is now Switzerland, Austria
and Bavaria to subdue the Germanic tribes there. They were successful and the Roman empire
was extended to the upper reaches of the Danube River.
- 12 BCE: Augustus becomes Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman religion
after Lepidus, who had been a member of the Triumvirate with Octavian and Mark Antony, dies.
Agrippa also dies. Augustus wanting to ensure that one of his descendants will rule Rome
forces his daughter, the widow of Agrippa, to marry Tiberius, his stepson. Neither of the
pair desired this marriage. Tiberius was already happily married to a daughter of Agrippa. He
nevertheless divorced his wife and married Julia. Tiberius immediately left on a military expedition to subdue
hostile elements in what is now Croatia, Serbia and Hungary.
- 9 BCE: Drusus, Augustus' other stepson, was commanding a Roman expedition across the
Rhine River into what is now Germany and extending Roman control up to the Elbe River.
In the year 9 BCE. Drusus died after being thrown by a horse. Tiberius journeyed to be
by his side and replaced him as the commander of Roman forces in
- 6 BCE: Tiberius was made tribune of the Roman Senate, a position of significant
power. An infant son of Julia and Tiberius dies.
- 5 BCE: Tiberius retires to the Isand of Rhodes, alledgedly because of the public
attention Augustus was showing in that year to Gaius Caesar, the older of the two sons of Agrippa and Julia
which he had adopted.
This attention indicates that Augustus intended to make him his heir.
- 2 BCE: Augustus held a public ceremony in the honor of Lucius Caesar, the younger of his adopted sons
- 2 CE: Lucius Caesar, the younger adopted son of Augustus, dies in West (in the city of Mars where he had been
sent by Augustus. Lucius was about 20 years of age.
Augustus allows Tiberius to return to Rome but banishes Julia to an island off the coast of
Italy. The banishment of Julia was because of her notorious promiscuity. Augustus refers to her
as "a disease of my flesh."
- 4 CE: Gaius Caesar, who had been sent by Augustus to the eastern provinces of the Empire,
dies there at an age of about 24.
Augustus adopted Tiberius as his son and heir and conferred powers on Tiberius nearly equal to
his own. Augustus was about 67 years of age and Tiberius was 42. Tiberius in turn adopted
Germanicus, the son of his dead brother Drusus.
- 6 CE: Rome annexed Judaea. Under its king Herod Judaea had been a client state rather
than a province of the Empire.
- 14 BE: Augustus fell ill and died on August 19th. On September 17th the Roman Senate
designated him a god. Tiberius succedes Augustus as Principate (First Citizen).
Neither held the title of emperor, but were, in effect, the first and second
emperors of the Roman Empire.
As ruler Tiberius cut off Julia's support and she died of malnutrition.
How Octavian's Ideas for Rome Differed from Those of Julius Caesar
John Buchan, in his book Augustus (Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1937, pp.98) speculates
on what Octavian thought of the plans of Julius Caesar for the Roman Empire:
Some of this [Julius Caesar's plans] Octavian unhesitatingly rejected as impracticable. The kingship,
for instance; Julius might have compassed it, but nothing save supreme genius could force
it on a reluctant Rome. […] Some of it he accepted and set himself to work out in his own
terms -- the single army, the centralized government.
Some things he disliked, such as the contempt for the old republican forms; he held it was
bad policy to innovate too rashly, and he was sufficient of the bourgeois --unlike Julius who
was the essential aristocrat -- to have a lingering admiration for the old houses and the
old ways. But especially he differed from the theory of a flat, unfeatured imperial citizenship,
an empire equal in all of its parts. Rome must remain the directing mind and Italy the
power-house. The logic of the statesman as well as the the sentiment of the provincial forced him to
this view, for he must have a fulcrum from which to work.
The Adminstrative and Fiscal Reforms of Rome Carried Out by Octavian
Initially Octavian ruled by way of a series of consulships which gave him legal power
over the armies. Later he relinquished the consulships but was designated as princep,
(first citizen). He also had the Senate desinate him as tribunica potestas, tribune
for life. Around 15 BCE he created a committee of the Senate to draft governmental program
and began the creation of a permanent civil service. He cloaked his reforms in terms of
Roman traditions but the reality was that the traditional form of governance of Rome was
for a municipality and were inadequate for governing a world empire.
Octavian gave special attention to reforming the finances of the empire. His father's
family had been bankers. The tax system of Rome was largely a poll tax (a head tax) and a land tax. There
were custom duties on commerce but at a relatively low level. Other taxes were farmed out
because Rome did not have the administrative organization for collecting such taxes.
The empire came to depend more and more on funds extracted from
the provinces rather than the city of Rome. This had the effect of removing control of
affairs from the Senate and keeping it in the hands of the executive heads of government.
Octavian expanded the minting of coins to facilitate commerce. The form of the coins
was made to serve some propaganda purposes. For example, those showing an image of Octavian
had him labeled Son of God.