Early life of Augustus

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Gaius Octavius Thurinus
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign January 16, 27 BC–August 19 AD 14
Full name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus
Born September 23, 63 BC
Birthplace Rome, Roman Republic
Died August 19, 14 AD
Place of death Rome, Roman Empire
Buried Mausoleum of Augustus
Predecessor Gaius Julius Caesar
Successor Tiberius, stepson by third wife and adoptive son
Consort to 1) Clodia Pulchra ?–40 BC
2) Scribonia 40 BC–38 BC
3) Livia Drusilla 38 BC to AD 14
Issue Julia the Elder
Royal House Julio-Claudian
Father Gaius Octavius;
adopted by Julius Caesar
Mother Atia Balba Caesonia

The early life of the Roman Emperor Augustus began at his birth in Rome on September 23, 63 BC, and is considered to have ended around the assassination of the Dictator Julius Caesar, his great-uncle and adoptive father, on March 15, 44 BC.

Childhood (63 BC - 48 BC)[edit]

Augustus was born Gaius Octavius Thurinus in Rome on September 23, 63 BC.[1] He was a member of the respectable, but undistinguished, Octavii family through his father, also named Gaius Octavius, and was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar through his mother Atia Balba Caesonia. The young Octavius had two older siblings: a half sister, from his father’s first marriage, named Octavia Major and a full sister named Octavia Minor. The Octavii were wealthy through their banking business in Velletri (in the Alban Hills), where the family was part of the local aristocracy. Through the works of Gaius Octavius senior, however, the family entered into the senatorial ranks with Octavius senior as the family’s novus homo. Octavius senior’s entrance into the Senate came when he was appointed Quaestor in 70 BC.


In 61 BC Octavius senior was elected Praetor. Since Octavius lacked a direct male presence, he looked to others for that presence. One person who provided such an influence was one of Atia's slaves, named Sphaerus. Sphaerus likely accompanied Octavian to the schools Octavian attended (in either Rome or Velitrae). Sphaerus was such a positive influence on Octavian that he was eventually given his freedom. When Sphaerus died, he was given a public funeral.[citation needed]

Following his praetorship, the elder Octavius would serve for two years as governor of Macedonia.[2] There, he proved himself a capable administrator. Upon returning to Italy in 59 BC, before he could stand for the Consulship, he suddenly died in Nola. This left the young Octavius, then four years old, without a father.

Octavius' mother Atia took over his education in the absence of his father. He was taught as the average Roman aristocratic boy was, learning both Latin and Greek while being trained as an orator. It wasn’t until Octavius was six years old that Atia remarried, this time to Lucius Marcius Philippus, a supporter of Julius Caesar and a former governor of Syria.[3] Philippus cherished his new stepchildren as if they were his own. He was consul of 56 BC with Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus.

At this time, the First Triumvirate between Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus was starting to collapse. By the time Octavius was ten in 53 BC, the alliance completely broke down with the death of Crassus in Parthia. Soon thereafter, Octavius made his first public appearance in 52 BC when he delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia Caesaris, sister of Julius Caesar.[4] It was at this time that the young Octavius captured the attention of his great-uncle.

With Crassus dead, Caesar and Pompey began to fight each other for supremacy. In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to return to Rome from Gaul and to disband his army. The Senate had forbidden Caesar to stand for a second consulship in absentia. Without the consulship, Caesar would be without legal immunity and without the power of his army. Left with no other options, on January 10, 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon (the frontier boundary of Italy) with only one legion and ignited civil war.

The Senate and Pompey fled to Greece. Despite outnumbering Caesar, who only had his Thirteenth Legion with him, Pompey had no intention of fighting in Italy. Leaving Marcus Lepidus as prefect of Rome, and the rest of Italy under Mark Antony as tribune, Caesar made an astonishing 27-day route-march to Hispania, rejoining two of his Gallic legions, where he defeated Pompey's lieutenants. He then returned east, to challenge Pompey in Greece where, on July 10, 48 BC at the Battle of Dyrrhachium, Caesar barely avoided a catastrophic defeat when the line of fortification was broken. He decisively defeated Pompey, despite Pompey's numerical advantage (nearly twice the number of infantry and considerably more cavalry), at the Battle of Pharsalus in an exceedingly short engagement in 48 BC.

Early Career (48 BC - 44 BC)[edit]

The same year as Caesar’s ultimate victory against Pompey, Octavius turned 15 and donned the toga virillis on October 18.[5] Shortly after assuming the toga virillis, Octavius began his first official business upon being elected a pontiff in the College of Pontiffs.[5] It was Caesar who had nominated Octavius for this position, the first of many to come from Caesar. While it is unknown if Caesar took the time to explain the current military or political situation, Caesar did take an interest in Octavius. While celebrating the Festival of the Latins, Caesar appointed Octavius the Praefectus urbi until his return. While the position was solely honorary and possessed no authority, it allowed Octavius a place in the public eye.

From 46 BC on, Octavius was very close to Caesar. He attended theaters, banquets, and other social gatherings with him and even received military decorations and rode with Caesar during his triumph for his African campaign despite never serving in combat. Soon, Octavius had built up considerable influence with Caesar to such a point that others would ask him to intercede with him on their behalf.

Following in the normal path of young Romans, Octavius needed experience with military affairs and Caesar recognized this. Caesar proposed that Octavius join him in Africa even though Octavius had fallen ill. Though he was now legally a man, his mother Atia was still a dominating figure in his life. According to Nicolaus of Damascus, Atia protested Octavius joining Caesar and Caesar recognized the necessity of protecting Octavius’ health.[6] Though she consented for him to join Caesar in Hispania, where he planned to fight the remaining forces under Pompey’s lieutenants, but Octavius again fell ill and was unable to travel.

As soon as he was well, Octavius, accompanied by a few friends (including Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), sailed to Hispania. Unfortunately, he became shipwrecked and, after coming ashore with his companions, was forced to make it across hostile territory to reach Caesar's camp. Octavius’ actions greatly impressed his great-uncle, who proceeded to teach Octavius the ways of provincial administration. The two stayed in Hispania until June 45 BC, after which they returned to Rome. Velleius Paterculus reports that Caesar and Octavius shared the same carriage.[7] When back in Rome, Caesar deposited a new will with the Vestal Virgins in which he secretly named Octavius as the prime beneficiary.[8]

Upon returning to Rome, Caesar increasingly amassed more authority and control over the Roman state. He was made Consul for 10 years and Dictator for the same period. He was allowed to name half of the magistrates each year and even allowed to name new patricians. Among others, Caesar used this new power to elevate Octavius.

Hoping to continue Octavius’ education, at the end of 45 BC Caesar sent him, along with his friends Agrippa, Gaius Maecenas, and Salvidienus Rufus, to Apollonia in Macedonia. There, Octavius learned not only academics and self-control but military doctrine and tactics as well. Caesar, however, had more than just education in mind for Octavius. Macedonia was home of five legions and he hoped to use it as a launching ground for an upcoming war with Parthia in the Middle East.[9] In preparation, Caesar had nominated Octavius to serve as Master of the Horse (Caesar’s chief lieutenant) for the year 43 BC, thus making Octavius the number two man in the state at the young age of 19.

However, the war with the Parthians never came nor Octavius’ promotion. While still in Apollonia, word reached Octavius that Caesar had been assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC. It was then made public that Caesar had adopted Octavius as his son and main heir. In response, Octavius changed his named to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Though modern scholars to avoid confusion commonly refer to him at this point as Octavian, he called himself “Caesar", which is the name his contemporaries also used.

Rejecting the advice of some army officers to take refuge with his troops in Macedonia, Octavian sailed to Italy to claim his inheritance.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 5–6.
  2. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 1–4.
  3. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 4–8; Nicolaus of Damascus, Augustus 3.
  4. ^ Suetonius, Augustus 8.1; Quintilian, 12.6.1.
  5. ^ a b Suetonius, Augustus 8.1
  6. ^ Nicolaus of Damascus, Augustus 6.
  7. ^ Velleius Paterculus 2.59.3.
  8. ^ Suetonius, Julius 83.
  9. ^ Eck, 9–10

See also[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
None
Emperor of the Roman Empire
January 16, 27 BC – August 19, 14 AD
Succeeded by
Tiberius