Gaius Octavius Augustus
September 23, 63 BCE – August 19, 14 CE
Born Gaius Octavius, Augustus was the founder of the Roman Empire and its first emperor, ruling from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE. Julius Caesar, his maternal great-uncle, adopted Octavius in his will and made him his heir. Together with Mark Anthony and Marcus Lepidus, Augustus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat Caesar’s assassins. This fueled competing ambitions within the group that resulted in a new civil war that concluded with Augustus’ victory in the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE.
Augustus was careful to restore the appearance of a Republic but he retained autocratic power as a military dictator, holding powers granted him for life by the Senate. Rejecting monarchical titles, Augustus called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Among the Citizens”). This new form of government became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.
The reign of Augustus began the famed Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”), a period of stability and relatively good fortunes for the Empire, which lasted for more than two centuries. He enlarged the territory of the Roman Empire, secured for it a buffer region of client states, and made peace with the Parthian Empire in Persia.
Augustus reformed the Roman tax system, built an imperial road network and courier system, established a standing army, created the elite Praetorian Guard to serve as the personal bodyguards of the emperor, and rebuilt much of Rome.
Timeline of Important Events during the life of Augustus
- 43 BCE – Brutus is defeated and killed in Gaul by Marcus Antonius.
- 42 BCE – Julius Caesar is deified.
- 42 BCE – Caesar assassin Gaius Cassius Longinus is killed at the second battle of Phillipi.
- 40 BCE – The Second Triumvirate of Octavian, Anthony, and Lepidus is reconfirmed.
- 36 BCE – Sextus Pompeius Magnus Pius, the son of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, is defeated by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, the legate and best friend of Octavius.
- 31 BCE – At the Battle of Actium, Octavian’s forces led by Agrippa defeat Antony and Cleopatra.
- 30 BCE – Antony and Cleopatra die by suicide.
- 28 BCE – Octavian named Princeps Senatus.
- 27 BCE – Augustus establishes the Praetorian Guard.
- 27 – 25 BCE – Augustus directs the final subjugation of Spain and the administrative reorganization of Spain and Gaul.
- 23 BCE – The senate grants Augustus the titles and powers of Imperium proconsulare maius and tribunicia potestas for life, giving him complete control of the State and ending the Roman Republic.
- 20 BCE – Augustus recovers the standards of the legions lost by Crassus to the Parthians.
- 19 BCE – The Roman poet and propagandist Virgil completes one of the great literary national epics, The Aeneid.
- 19 BCE – The Arch of Augustus is constructed in Rome.
- 15 BCE – Tiberius and Drusus both defeat the Germanic tribes of the Vindelici and Rhaeti.
- 6 – 4 BCE – Estimated date of the birth of Jesus.
- 2 BCE – Construction of the Forum of Augustus is completed.
- 4 CE – Augustus adopts Tiberius as heir.
- 5 CE – Tiberius campaigns in Germania
- 8 CE – The future emperor Claudius is appointed an augur, his only official post under Augustus.
- 9 CE – Future emperor Vespasian is born in the town of Reate.
- 9 CE – Construction of the Ara Pacis (“Altar of Peace”) is completed.
- 14 CE – Emperor Augustus dies in Nola in southern Italy (near modern Naples).