August 19, 14
The death of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, first Emperor of Rome.
He was born in the city of Rome on the Palatine Hill on September 23, 63 B.C.E. and named Gaius Octavian Thurinus, bearing his fathers surname. His mother, Atia, was a niece of Julius Caesar, the daughter of Caesar’s sister. His father died when he was four years old. After his mother remarried he was raised by his maternal grand mother, Julia Caesaris.
As a young man he fought with Caesar in Spain and upon returning to Rome, Caesar deposited a new will with the Vestals, naming Octavian as his heir.
After Caesar’s murder on the Ides (March 16, 44 B.C.E.) Octavian learned he had been adopted by Caesar as his son and left 2/3 of his estate. Octavian, in accordance with Roman custom took Caesar’s name and became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
Rome had been in civil war – the First Triumvirate of military dictators, Caesar, Pompey Magnus and Marcus Crassus had not lasted long – Crassus was killed in a war of choice against the Parthians (modern day Iraq and Iran) while Pompey was defeated by Caesar’s legions before being killed in Egypt.
Caesar himself was murdered in the Senate and a new Triumvirate, Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus formed to hunt down the killers of Caesar. After the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (in Greece), the three divided up the empire under military rule.
The Second Triumvirate didn’t last long either – Lepidus was driven into exile and Octavian and Mark Antony were soon at each other’s throats. Antony, married to his second wife, Octavian’s sister, abandoned her and instead joined in alliance with Cleopatra, his lover. whom Julius Caesar had put on the throne of Egypt over her brother. Cleopatra had a son, Caesarion, whom she claimed was fathered by Julius Caesar and was his rightful heir, in Egypt and in Rome. Caesar never acknowledged Caesarion as his son but allowed the boy to be named after him.
Octavian defeated the combined forces of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium and soon both committed suicide. Antony’s son by Fulvia, his first wife and Caesarion, son of Caesar and Cleopatra, were killed and in 29 B.C.E. Octavian returned to Rome in triumph and proclaimed universal peace throughout the Roman world – the Pax Romana.
The Senate awarded him the title of Augustus.
From then on until his death Augustus embarked on a policy of domestic improvement and reform so sweeping that the the period of his rule and for almost two centuries after his death, was called the Augustan Age. His successors would not always be such fine rulers.
He will be dead 2,000 years this Tuesday. The entire month has been named after him ever since.