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This Week In History

First Constitutional Settlement – January 13, 27 BC

After the Battle at Actium with Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC, Octavian remained in Egypt to get everything settled and under control. Once that was completed, he headed to the eastern part of the Rome’s territory to meet with the various leaders and get their support, having defeated Antony, who had set up the previous appointments. Convinced all was well, Octavian returned to Rome in August of 29 BC to participate in celebrations for three consecutive days, given in honor of the triumps in Dalmatia, Actium and Egypt. You will find examples of Octavian coins at the end of this post.

Status of Augustus

Octavian was the last man standing from the Second Triumvirate and held the position of consul from 31 BC until 23 BC. Using what he called “universal consent”, a non-legal term for his dominance of the Roman world, he was in complete control of everything at the time. He was able to accomplish this by ending the civil wars and was able to unite Italy and its provinces. Everyone was looking to him to lead into peaceful and prosperous times. The Senate and people voted to bestow numerous honors on him, which he refused in order to be consistent with his views of tradition. However, he would need to settle on some kind of structure, since the region had moved from the Republican to the Imperatorial periods and required resolution.

Octavian carefully considered over the next eighteen months what to do and on January 13, 27 BC, called together the First Constitutional Settlement in the Senate. He entered the chamber and declared he was retiring and returning to private life. Senators were aghast and implored him to remain. After some convincing, he accepted a proposal in which he would share the burden of running affairs. Octavian was in charge of Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, Cilicia, Gaul and Spain (with the exception of Baetica), the position being granted for ten years and allowed for him to appoint legates in each region to administer on his behalf. The rest of the Roman world was left to the Senate and the People.

On January 16, a second meeting was called, and at this event, C. Julius Caesar Octavianus was declared Augustus and Princeps, thus beginning the Roman Empire. The name Augustus itself combining the aspects of religion (augur) and social order (auctoritas). His official title was now Imperator Caesar Augustus. At this second meeting, Augustus was also conferred the corona civica for saving the lives of citizens, and the Shield of Virtues was erected in his honor in the meeting hall of the Curia. He was awarded laurels and the right to display them on his door and wear them.

Over the next decades, Augustus and the Senate made modifications, as necessary along the way, to the structure of the Empire to ensure everything kept running smoothly. Augustus ruled until his death on August 19, 14 AD, at the age of 75, succeeded by his adopted son, Tiberius.

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