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The Emperor Augustus: Biography, Facts & Achievements

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  • 0:02 Growing up Octavius
  • 0:48 A Favorite Uncle
  • 2:04 First Citizen
  • 4:17 Accomplishments
  • 5:32 Legacy
  • 6:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Emperor Augustus ruled Rome for 45 years, ushering in a period of stability that persisted long after his death. Learn about the man behind the emperor and discuss the achievements that made him one of the most memorable rulers in Roman history.

Growing up Octavius

How many stories about great people come from relatively humble roots? From the fairy tales we tell children to the hero movies we watch as adults, there's something about a kid who just makes it big. Augustus was just that type of kid. Named Octavius at birth in 63 BC, the boy had a pretty average life. He was born into a family that was well off, but by no means famous or influential. In fact, most who heard about the birth of the boy would have expected Octavius to quietly live out his days as a farmer, owning a few slaves and perhaps achieving some local political office. However, Octavius's father died when he was four, and his step-father really didn't care for him. So he was sent to live with his grandmother, Julia Caesaris.

A Favorite Uncle

If that name sounds familiar, there's good reason. Julia's brother was none other than Julius Caesar, and he was the most electrifying person in Rome. Caesar practically ruled Rome by this time through an arrangement known as the First Triumvirate, in which Caesar and two other men shared control of the city and its provincial holdings across the Mediterranean. Caesar brought control of the people to this enterprise, since he was literally the most popular person around. In today's politics, it's hard to imagine someone as universally popular. In fact, the closest analogy possible is a Super Bowl winning quarterback. His popularity came as a result of his impressive military abilities because he had conquered new lands for Rome.

Finally, on one of these campaigns, Octavius met up with his great-uncle. Swimming for his life after being shipwrecked, Octavius crossed enemy territory to find Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Needless to say, this impressed Caesar, who immediately made Octavius his heir. In other ways, too, was Octavius gaining the admiration of his uncle. Unfortunately for Caesar, Octavius would inherit Julius Caesar's estate only two years later. Caesar was assassinated in the Senate on March 15, 44 BC.

First Citizen

Becoming Caesar's financial heir was easy. Becoming his political heir was much more difficult. Others hungry for power began to try to fight Octavius, but the young man arranged a Second Triumvirate made up of men loyal to Caesar's memory to punish those whom had assassinated Julius Caesar. However, this soon collapsed when another member of the Triumvirate, Marc Antony, tried to prove himself to be Caesar's true political heir and allied with Cleopatra of Egypt to gain the power to defeat Octavius. After a civil war, Octavius emerged victorious and returned to Rome.

This return to Rome put the Roman Senate in a quandary. For more than 500 years, they had claimed to rule Rome. In fact, they had killed Julius Caesar because he was simply too popular. Now his nephew returned with the respect of every soldier in Rome - the Senate could not hope to do away with him so easily. However, Octavius was aware of the reason that his uncle had been killed as well. As such, he gave control of the army and the new provinces back to the Senate. Still, the Senate knew that they had to keep Octavius happy, or he'd destroy them. As a result, the Senate gave Octavius many powers, including the title of Princips Civitatis, or First Citizen of the State. Moreover, the Senate gave him the title of Augustus, which is how most people know him today.

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