16 January 27 B.C.-19 August A.D. 14

27 B.C. - 14 A.D.


The University of Texas at Austin

By the death of Antony, Octavius or Augustus was master of the Roman empire. He soon returned to Rome in triumph, where, by sumptuous feasts, and magnificent shows, he began to obliterate the remembrance of his former cruelty, and thenceforward resolved to secure by his clemency, a throne, which he had acquired by bloodshed.

Augustus had gained the empire by his army, and he now resolved to govern it by the senate. Discountenancing all corruption, he pretended to reserve to himself a very moderate share of authority.

He soon found himself agitated by different inclinations, and considered a long time whether he should keep the empire, or restore the people to their ancient liberty. But he adopted the advice of Maecenas, who desired him to continue in power. By the instructions of that minister, he became gentle, affable, and humane, and encouraged men of learning.

Augustus, having given peace to the empire, and being convinced of the attachment of all the orders of the state to his person, resolved upon impressing the people with an idea of his magnanimity also. He did much to improve he laws and manners.

This was by making a show of resigning his authority. He urged his own inability; and then with a degree of seeming generosity, freely gave up all that power which his arms had gained, and the senate had confirmed.

This show of resignation only served to confirm him in the empire and the hearts of the people. New honors were heaped upon him. He was then first called Augustus, a name by which he is best known in history. A laurel was ordered to be planted at his gates. His house was called the palace. He was honored with the title of father of his country, and his person declared sacred.

Upon entering into his tenth consulship, the senate, by oath, approved all his acts, and set him wholly above the power of the laws. They offered to swear not only to all the laws he had made, but such as he should make in future.

It was determined that no man should be put to death, on such days as the emperor entered the city. Upon a dearth of provisions, the people in a body entreated him to accept of the dictatorship; but though he undertook to be procurator of provisions, he would not accept of the title of dictator, which had been abolished by a law made when Antony was consul.

The accumulation of titles and employments, did not in the least diminish his assiduity in filling the duty of each. By his command several edicts were passed to suppress corruption in the senate, and licentiousness in the people. He ordained that none should exhibit a show of gladiators without orders from the senate, and then no oftener than twice a year; nor with more than an hundred and twenty at a time.

This law was necessary at so corrupt a period; when whole armies of these unfortunate men were brought at once upon the stage, and compelled sometimes to fight till half of them were slain.

It being usual also for the knights, and some women of the first distinction, to exhibit themselves as dancers upon the theatre, he ordered that not only they, but their children and grand-children, should be restrained from such exercises.

He fined many that had refused to marry at a certain age, and rewarded such as had many children. He enacted that the senators should be always held in great reverence. He made a law that no man should have the freedom of the city without a previous examination into his merits and character. He appointed new rules and limits to the manumission of slaves, and was himself very strict in the observance of them.

With regard to players, he severely examined their morals, not allowing the least licentiousness in their lives, nor indecency in their actions. Though he encouraged the athletic exercises, yet he would not permit women to be present at them, holding it unbecoming the modesty of the sex, to be spectators of these sports. In order to prevent bribery in suing for offices, he took considerable sums of money from the candidates by way of pledge.

These, and many other laws, all tending to reform vice, gave the manners of the people another complexion; so that the rough character of the Roman was now softened into that of the refined citizen.

Indded his owns example tended to humanize his fellow citizens; for being placed above equality, he had nothing to fear from condescension. Though be was capable of condemning or acquiting whom he thought proper, yet he gave the laws their proper course, and even sometimes pleaded for those he desired to protect.

One of his veteran soldiers entreated his protection in a certain cause; but Augustus taking little notice of his request, desired him to apply to an advocate. Ah, replied the soldier, it was not by proxy that I served you at the battle of Actium. This reply pleased Augustus so much, that he pleaded his cause in person and gained it for him. He was extremely affable, and returned the salutations of the meanest persons.

But what most showed a total change in his disposition, was his treatment of Cornelius Cinna, Pompey's grandson. This nobleman had entered into a conspiracy against him, but the plot was discovered before it was ripe for execution. Augustus was resolved to mortify Cinna by the greatness of his generosity; and addressed him in particular thus - I have twice given you your life, first as an enemy, now as a conspirator; I now give you the consulship; let us therefore be friends for the future : and let us only contend in showing whether my confidence or your fidelity shall be victorious.

Augustus had some uneasiness of a domestic nature in his own family that contributed to distress him. He had married Livia, the wife of Tiberius Nero, by the consent of her husband; she was an imperious woman, and controlled him at her pleasure. She had two sons by her former husband, Tiberius the elder, whom she greatly loved and Drusus, who was born after she married Augustus.

The eldest of these, Tiberius, whom he afterwards adopted, and who succeeded him in the empire, was a good general, but of a suspicious and obstinate temper; though he was serviceable to Augustus in his foreign wars, yet he gave him but little quiet at home. He was at last obliged to go into exile for five years in the island of Rhodes.

Drusus the son of Livia, died in his return from an expedition against the Germans, leaving Augustus inconsolable for his loss. But his greatest affliction was the conduct of his daughter Julia, whom he had by Scribonia, his former wife. This woman whom he married to his general Agrippa, and after his death to Tiberius, set no bounds to her shameful conduct. She had two sons by AgripPa, named Caius and Lucius, from whom great expectations were formed, but they both died young.


The death of Augustus

Augustus having in a great measure survived all his contemporaries, at length, in the seventy fourth year of his age, began to think upon retiring from the fatigues of state, and making Tiberius his son-in-law, his successor.

Augustus desired the senate to salute him no longer at the palace according to custom, nor to take it amiss, if in future, he could not converse with them as formerly. From that time Tiberius was joined in the government with him. Augustus could not entirely forsake the administration of the state, and showed himself to the last a lover of his people. Finding it inconvenient to come to tho senate by reason of his age, he desired to have twenty privy counsellors assigned him for a year; and it was decreed that whatever measures were resolved upon by them should have the force of a law. He seemed apprehensive of his approaching end, for he made his will and delivered it to the vestal virgins.

He then solemnized the census, by which he found that the population of the city amounted to 4137000, which shows that Rome was equal to the greatest cities of modern times. While these ceremonies were performing, by a mighty concourse of people in the Campus Martius, it is said that an eagle flew round the emperor several times, and directing its flight to a neighboring temple, perched over the name of Agrippa, which was by the augurs conceived to portend the death of the emperor.

Shortly after, Augustus having accompanied Tiberius in his march to Illyria as far as Beneventum, was taken ill. Returning, he came to Nola, near Capua, and sent for Tiberius with the rest of his friends and acquaintance. A few tours before his death he ordered a looking glass to be brought, and his hair to be adjusted with more than usual care.

He then addressed his friends, and desired to know whether he had properly played his part in life; and being answered in the affirmative, he cried out with his last breath, then give me your applause; and thus, in the seventy sixth year of his age, after reigning forty four, he expired in the arms of Livia, telling her to remember their marriage, and bidding her farewell.

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