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Augustus (ôgŭsˈtəs, əgŭsˈ–), 63 B.C.–A.D. 14, first Roman emperor, a grandson of the sister of Julius Caesar. Named at first Caius Octavius, he became on adoption by the Julian gens (44 B.C.) Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavian); Augustus was a title of honor granted (27 B.C.) by the senate.

The Second Triumvirate

When Octavius was a youth, Caesar took a great interest in his education and made him his heir without the boy's knowledge. Octavius was in Illyricum when Caesar was killed, and he promptly set out for Rome to avenge the dictator's death. Before he reached the city, he heard that he was Caesar's heir. At Rome, Antony was in control, and Octavian was recognized by Cicero and the senate as a leader against him. Antony went north to take Gaul and was defeated (43 B.C.) at Mutina (modern Modena).

Octavian secured the consulship and made an alliance with Antony and Lepidus (d. 13 B.C.) as the Second Triumvirate. Having proscribed the enemies of the triumvirate and the assasins of Caesar, Octavian and Antony went east and defeated (42 B.C.) the army of Marcus Junius Brutus and Caius Cassius Longinus at Philippi. Octavian's forces then attacked Sextus Pompeius, who controlled Sicily and Sardinia; Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa defeated (36 B.C.) Pompeius at Mylae.


Consolidation of Power

While his enemies were being defeated abroad, Octavian also had been consolidating his power in Rome. He was helped by the growing impatience of Rome with Antony's alliance with Cleopatra, and he had himself appointed (31 B.C.) general against Antony. After the naval battle off Actium, which Agrippa won over Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian controlled all Roman territories. Although he began to reform the city and the provinces, he never returned control of the state back to the people.

He did, however, give the impression that Rome had gone from a military dictatorship to constitutional rule. He established no court, and he considered himself, at least publicly, not the ruler, but rather the first citizen of the republic. The senate delighted to honor him: in 29 B.C. he was made imperator [Lat.,=commander; from it is derived emperor], in 28 B.C. princeps [leader; from it is derived prince], in 27 B.C. augustus [august, reverend], in 12 B.C. pontifex maximus [high priest], and a month (Sextilis) was renamed Augustus (August) in his honor.

In his effort to hold the borders set by Caesar, he attempted to create a buffer state of the German territory between the Rhine and the Weser (or the Elbe). This led to a rebellion in A.D. 9 by Arminius in which Varus was defeated. This was the only real reverse Augustus suffered.

Reforms and Policies

Augustus's reforms, which were far-reaching, fostered a revival of Roman tradition. He divided the provinces into two classes—senatorial, ruled by a proconsul chosen by the senate with a term of one year, and imperial, in charge of a governor solely responsible to Augustus with an indefinite term. To control the provinces Augustus encouraged local autonomy in administrative matters and allowed ethnic customs and cultural patterns to to flourish. He also spread the army throughout the empire; before this Italy had been burdened with a huge standing army.

Augustus studied the plans of Caesar for colonization throughout the empire. In economic policy, he supported business and industry. He made taxation more equitable and had general censuses taken. Knowing that the roads were the arteries of the empire, he lavished expenditures on them. He built a new forum, beautified the streets, improved housing conditions, and set up adequate police and fire protection. He was munificent to arts and letters, and he was a close friend of Maecenas and a patron of Vergil, Ovid, Livy, and Horace. He was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius.


See biographies by A. Everitt (2006) and A. Goldsworthy (2014); V. Ehrenberg and A. H. M. Jones, Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus and Tiberius (2d ed. 1955); R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (1939); G. W. Bowersock, Augustus and the Greek World (1965); F. Millar and E. Segal, ed., Caesar Augustus: Seven Aspects (1984).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(up to 44 B.C., Gaius Octavius; from 44 B.C., Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus; from 27 B.C., Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian Augustus). Born Sept. 23, 63 B.C.; died Aug. 19, A.D. 14. Roman emperor from 27 B.C.

Octavian was the grandnephew of Julius Caesar, who adopted him in his will. After Caesar’s death in 44 B.C., Octavian expected to become his successor with the support of Caesar’s soldiers and veterans, although he as yet had held no magistracies. Receiving no support from the consul Mark Antony, Octavian sided with the Senate against him during the Mutina War in 43 B.C. Afterward, when the Senate refused to grant him a consulate, he broke with the Senate and concluded an alliance (the Second Triumvirate) with Antony and another Caesarist, Lepidus. In 42 B.C. the triumvirs defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Caesar, at Philippi in Macedonia. After defeating Antony’s allies in 40 B.C. during the Perusine War and winning a victory over Sextus Pompey in 36 B.C., Octavian deposed Lepidus and initiated a war against Antony. His victory at Actium in 31 B.C., over Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII brought the civil war period to an end. By this time, all the government power was concentrated in Octavian’s hands. At the Senate’s meeting of Jan. 13, 27 B.C., he declared his intention to retire from public office, but “giving in” to the requests of the senators, he accepted a number of powers that virtually secured supreme power after him. After this, the Senate bestowed the title Augustus (glorified by the gods) on Octavian.

Augustus’ authority was formally based on traditional republican public and legal norms: he was a princeps of the Senate, held the imperium (that is, military power) of the higher magistrates, had the powers of a people’s tribune for life, was elected consul many times, and was high priest (from 12 B.C.). Although the republican institutions were retained, this already was a special form of monarchy known as the principate.

An extremely careful politician and an excellent diplomat, Augustus understood that the Romans were exhausted by the civil wars; for this reason, all legislative enactments were passed under the slogan of restoring the old paternal order and peace (Pax Romana). In politics it was characteristic for Augustus to maneuver between different social groups. While retaining the Senate’s prestige, he at the same time decreased its political role. Higher officials became recruited from the equites, whose numbers increased because of the Italian municipal nobility and soldiers who were promoted to commanders. To counteract the magistracies, which lost their real purpose, Augustus set up bureaucratic machinery. His policy toward the plebeians was that of “bread and spectacles.” The imperial authority’s support was the army, especially the praetorians. A series of laws enacted by Augustus strengthened the principles of slavery. Augustus’ policy regarding the provinces helped create a class of people interested in preserving Roman rule; all the Roman provinces were divided into those under the jurisdiction of the Senate and those under the jurisdiction of the emperor.

In the first years of his reign, Augustus conducted aggressive wars. Under his rule, the conquest of Spain was completed, and the provinces of Egypt, Moesia, Pannonia, and Germania were organized. However, rebellions in some provinces (in Pannonia in A.D. 6–9) and the defeat of the Romans in the Teutoburg Forest in A.D. 9 forced Augustus to give up any further campaigns.

Much construction was completed in Rome during Augustus’ reign, including the Altar of Peace [Ara Pacis], the Forum of Julius, and the Forum of Augustus. His reign also coincided with the Roman golden age of literature—the age of such writers as Vergil, Horace, Ovid, Tibullus, Proper-tius, and Titus Livy.


Mashkin, N. A. Printsipat Avgusta. Moscow, 1949. (With bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


original name Gaius Octavianus; after his adoption by Julius Caesar (44 bc) known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. 63 bc--14 ad, Roman statesman, a member of the second triumvirate (43 bc). After defeating Mark Antony at Actium (31 bc), he became first emperor of Rome, adopting the title Augustus (27 bc)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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