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This Week In History

Augustus Born – 23 September 63 BC

“Caesar Augustus” was born on September 23, 63 BC to Gaius Octavius and Atia. As was common in Roman culture, Augustus’s birth name was the same as his father and was called Octavian. He had an older sister named Octavia, who would later wed Gaius Claudius Marcellus, and after his death, Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony). This is a category of  Augustus coins.

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Octavian’s father died when he was only 4 years old as was raised by his mother. However, his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, helped Atia look after her only son and personally introduced him to society. Throughout his lifetime, Octavian acquired many titles, beginning with pontifex (Priest) and Praefectus Urbi (City Prefect of Rome) in 47 BC. Although never of excellent health, he lived a long and very active life.

Octavian campaigned with Julius Caesar in Spain in 45 BC, then went to Apollonia in Greece for school. When Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, he discovered his great-uncle had actually adopted him and inherited ¾ of his vast wealth and changed his name from Octavian to Gaius Julius Caesar.

With Julius Caesar gone, the end of the First Triumvirate was now complete and a great power struggle commenced among Marc Antony, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Octavian, who were looking to maintain or expand their power in this new Imperatorial period, and between Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (the Brutus and Cassius who murdered Julius Caesar).

In 43 BC, Octavian was given command of the senate-backed army and confronted Marc Antony’s armies in northern Italy. Antony was defeated and the senate named Octavian as one of the new consuls, as both current consuls were killed during the conflict. Later in 43 BC, Octavian obtained a truce with Antony and Lepidus and formed what was officially named the Second Triumvirate via the Lex Titia.

The Triumviral Pact was only good for five years, so in 37 BC, Octavia, who was now married to Marc Antony, arranged for the trio to extend the agreement another five years. This only lasted smoothly for a year, however, as Lepidus came in conflict with Octavian while he was engaging Sextus Pompey in Sicily. Lepidus was stripped of his titles and was declared only to be Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). The Pact expired again in 33 BC and Octavian declared he would not help renew it, essentially declaring war on Marc Antony, who was becoming more involved with Egypt and Cleopatra each year.

Over the next two years, Octavian essentially occupied Rome, terrorized the Senate, who was strongly backing Antony, and grew his support to the level where he was able to confront Antony and Cleopatra in the famous Battle of Actium in 31 BC. With their defeat, the couple separately committed suicide in 30 BC, and Octavian added Egypt as his own private territory.

During 30 BC to 27 BC, Octavian moved to restoring peace and order across Roman territory, finally renouncing all of his titles, except consul, and the senate declared him Augustus on January 16, 27 BC, thus officially beginning the Roman Empire, and when he changed his name from Octavian to Caesar Augustus.

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