Differences between Julius Caesar and Octavian Augustus?

Jan 2017
Italy, EU
Books often stress a continuity between Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus. But what were some major differences between the two? (personality, political views, family history, ambitions and capabilities etc. etc.)
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Sep 2019
Augustus, known as Caesar Augustus or Octavian, was the Roman emperor Julius Caesar's great-nephew whom he adopted as his son and heir.

The main difference between the two is Caesar's policy of clemency and magnanimity (generosity) towards his political opponents. Augustus used more political murder in order to achieve his objectives.


Forum Staff
May 2013
Albuquerque, NM
Both were members of an ancient Roman patrician family, the Julians. Rome which began as a rustic group living in a swampy area between seven hills and the Tiber River, were under the domination of the Etruscans, but eventually replaced them as the regional power. The early Romes so hated the Etruscan king(s), that they resolved never to have a King and to that end they developed what we now call a Republic. The new City State was mostly made up of land-owning farmers, but as usual some land-owners were larger and richer. The Republican System of Rome divided the population into tribes, who elected their representatives to the Senate. It was not a popular vote or plebiscite, but by acclamation for the Patron ... the important families of their tribe. In the Senate, all were supposed to be equal with two Consuls chosen from the Senate who served for only one year. So long as Rome remained a small City State that worked reasonably well. Rome did not stay within their swamps for long, and as they expanded yearly during the slack agricultural season by aggressively going to war with their neighbors. This was not uncommon at the time, what was uncommon was how the Roman's dealt with the defeated. Rome left the defeated to pretty much to govern themselves so long as they remained loyal to Rome and provided military support and troops. That gave Rome a constant supply of troops to call upon. Rome was extremely successful, and the little backwater town became Great. The population soared, the general wealth (esp. in slaves) rose, and Patrician farmer families became absentee landlords who lived in an increasingly luxurious Rome. The republican system didn't change, but the Roman approach was to make small adjustments within a sacrosanct system. Wealth was based on ownership, and the work required to maintain the system was increasingly done by slaves. Roman plebes went off to fight Romes wars, and when they returned their farms had been absorbed into large plantation-like enterprises. What was a poor Roman without land or wealth to do? They moved to Rome and made up the "voters" who supplied the support needed by their Patrician leaders to gain power within the Senate and by extension to all the rest of Rome.

The Roman military system provided entry into the Equestrian Class to anyone who could afford a horse and the military equipage of the day. That made for four Rome Classes (Patricians, Equestrians, Plebes, and Slaves/Freed Men) There was continual stress between these Classes, and internal conflict increased as Rome grew. There were attempts to "fix" the system, but those generally failed to be more than temporary, and features like the election of Tribunes continued and added to the complexity of governing. The allies became restless as their men and treasure went off to be spent by Rome, and so Rome grudgingly gave citizenship to them ... but the Roman Citizen of Tuscany could only vote when physically in Rome during its elections. After Rome had consolidated its hold on the Italian Boot, it ran up against the Carthaginians and fought a series of wars against a rival who was far more comfortable at sea and that rivaled or exceeded Rome in reach on land. Rome lost in Sicily, but and lost often on land right up until Carthage was razed after Scipio Africas' campaign. Rome was eventually victorious, but it no longer was such a generous overlord. Captives were valuable slaves, and to lose to Rome was to surrender significant numbers of slaves and hostages.

The Julian Family remained important, but the Scipios had pretty much hogged all the governmental honors and power to the anguish of all the other Patrician Families who lost power in what was a zero-sum game. The result of weaknesses in the system, a series of ambitious men perverted that system and a whole series of very brutal civil wars resulted. By the middle of the First century BCE, Rome fell into the grasp of three men: Pompey, Crassus, and Giaus Jullius Caesar. Pompey was a famous and very competent General with a veteran army at his back. Crassus was the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and perhaps the whole world. I mean really stinking rich. Giaus Julius Caesar was an up and coming politician operating largely on cash from Crassus, buta wildly popular Consul... too popular to be neglected. So Pompey took his army East to the wealth of Persia and Egypt, and the High Culture of Greece.

Giaus Julius Caesar was popular and corrupt to the point that when leaving office, he was facing severe penalties under Roman Law. He couldn't be prosecuted while in government office so the upstart kid was sent off to govern Gaul. Jullius (Giaus was almost universally given to Roman boys, and his personal name was Caesar, but now known primarily by his Family name), saw opportunity and exceeded his authority from the Senate to fight his Gallic War. He was a great PR guy, and soon all Rome gathered around to read and marvel at Caesar's conquest of Gaul. However, the Pro-consulship was coming to an end and Caesar would again be vulnerable to legal problems. The Senate would not protect him, and so "The Die is cast".

Caesar brought his army to Rome, and filled the vacuum as his main political opponents decamped. The Roman citizenry love him for his lavish spending, and the Senate viewed him with skepticism because this was a replay of similar events that had happened previously. Caesar could not let Pompey who also had an experienced battle ready army at his back, to remain a threat to the Julian dominance in Rome. Caesar goes off to fight Pompey, Pompey is defeated and scuttles off to sanctuary with the last of the Potlemy rulers of Egypt. Caesar and Cleo were the scandal of Rome where Caesar's wife waited while Caesarion was born. Caesar brought Clio to Rome along with the almost untold wealth of Egypt. The Plebs were ecstatic, but the Patrican Class .. not so much. Caesar was so powerful and his foriegn connections so distasteful to conservative Rome. Caesar had the Senate appoint him first Dictator (under Roman Law a position that could not exceed a year), and had himself named Dictator for life. That was too much like being "King", and the patriotism of folks like Brutus was challenged if they did not rise to the defense of Rome. The assassins didn't think through the consequences of their act. They were not hailed as heroes, and the Roman populace didn't take the murder of their fair-haired boy lightly.
Oct 2015
First among innumerable differences is that Gaius Julius Caesar was a patrician nobilis. Caesars family was one of the oldest in Rome and was ennobled by consular ancestors as early as 475 BC.

Before his adoption by Caesar, Gaius Octavianus was the son of a plebian novus homo from Velitrae. His father (of the same name) was his first direct ancestor to enter the senate, he was praetor in 60 BC, suppressed a slave rebellion in Thurii and was proconsul of Macedonia in 59. Octavius' mother Atilia Balba Caesonia was Caesars niece. Octavians' father died in 58 BC and his mother re-married Lucius Marcius Phillipus (cos 56), his stepfather was thus a member of the plebian nobility with consular ancestors as early as 305 BC.

Adoption by Caesar made Octavian a patrician and made his fortune (which was his name - Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus).
Dec 2013
IIRC, Julius Caesar was much more a brilliant, hands on military leader while Augustus Octavian preferred to delegate military leadership to trusted underlings.

Octavian had a knack for building up his popularity among the general populace of Rome (even more so than Julius). It was said that Octavian was so popular that even late in his reign he could walk the streets of Rome completely unguarded with no fear whatsoever.
Oct 2015
True. Augustus often went on campaign (Phillippi, Actium, Egypt, Spain, Germany) but spent most of his time in the field sick in his tent. He was incredibly lucky to have several fine commanders as his adherents... Titus StatiliusTaurus, Quintus Salvidienus Rufus and especially Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa...."ignoble names, never before heard of". All able commanders and, except for Salvidienus, loyal.

Even more important was his ability to morph like a chamelion from ruthless revolutionary terrorist into beneficient magistrate, princeps, and elder statesman; and to veil his domination with republican forms.