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Augustus (from 'Salah's Portraits of the Roman Emperors')

Posted July 10th, 2014 at 09:24 AM by Salah

Augustus (r. 27 BCE - 14 CE)

Born on September 23rd, 63 BCE, at Roma, Italia. Parents were Gaius Octavius, an Equestrian, and Atia.

A member of the Second Triumvirate 43-30 BCE; formally reigned from January 16th, 27 BCE to August 19th, 14 CE.

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In his boyhood, the future Augustus was often called 'Thurinus', apparently to commemorate a victory his father won at Thurii over members of the Spartacan Revolt. Later in life, Augustus would bitterly resent this name. He became known as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus after the murder of his uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar. The Senate formally declared him Augustus and Princeps in January of 27 BCE, a date that could be considered the formal birth of the Roman Empire.

Octavian and Augustus almost seem to be distinct men in the pages of history. Octavian is depicted as bloodthirsty, cowardly, and opportunistic, while Augustus is a mature statesman, and a stern fatherly figure. It is impossible for us to find the reality underneath these conflicting depictions of Rome's first emperor. Throughout the course of his eventful life, he was the subject of both favorable and slanderous propaganda.

Though he had a total of four adoptive sons, Augustus only produced one child, Julia; her mother was Scribonia, his second wife. Augustus' third and most famous wife, Livia Drusilla, was supposedly a crafty and formidable personality in her own right. Other lifelong companions of Augustus included Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, one of the foremost generals of the regime, and Gaius Maecenas, an Etruscan prince who served as the Emperor's 'minister of propaganda'.

Augustus was only a ghostly presence at the 42 BCE Battle of Philippi. This and similar episodes during the Civil Wars won him the reputation of a coward, a stigma he consciously attempted to live down. According to Suetonius, he was ruthless in his treatment of Roman nobles who were taken captive after a victory. His treatment of his own daughter certainly sounds stern, if not brutal - she was banished in 2 BCE, the result of a scandal that may have included a plot on Augustus' life.

Rome's first Emperor expressed much interest in public morality, particularly the relationships between men and their wives. Despite his grand, often Hellenized portrayals in contemporary art, he was modest, even slovenly in his dress and hygiene. These traits are evidence of Augustus' interest in returning Rome to her traditional, rural values.

Augustus was considered a generally attractive man, with bright eyes and blond, wavy hair. According to Suetonius, however, he was on the short side, had bad teeth, and 'his eyebrows met'. He was not overly concerned about security, and portrayed himself as an approachable man of the people. His favorite food was reputed to be asparagus, and late in life he was prone to getting chills. He lived a long and healthy life by Roman standards. His death was probably natural, though it has been suggested that Livia sped up his demise by feeding him poisoned mushrooms, possibly with his knowledge.

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Suggested further reading:

Augustus by Anthony Everitt
Divus Augustus, life of Augustus by Suetonius
Histories of Cassius Dio
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  1. Old Comment
    gladiatrice's Avatar
    I found this interesting, for certes, but there is no picture of Augustus to pull up!
    Posted July 16th, 2014 at 09:34 PM by gladiatrice gladiatrice is offline
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