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The Timeline of the Life of Octavian,
Caesar Augustus

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.

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.

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