August 19th 14 AD: Augustus dies
On this day in 14 AD the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, died aged 75. Born Gaius Octavius and known as Octavian, he was named as heir of his great uncle Julius Caesar. Upon Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC, Augustus formed an alliance - the Second Triumvirate - with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Mark Antony, to rule and take vengeance on Caesar’s assassins. The alliance soon fell apart and the three fought for sole rule of Rome. Octavian emerged victorious after defeating Mark Anthony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Octavian then set about ‘restoring’ the Roman Republic, which had been ruled by Caesar as Dictator, by formally returning power to the Senate. However in reality the new leader kept considerable power in his person, adopting many titles which became part of the imperial pantheon, including ‘Augustus’ (which loosely translates as ‘magnificent’), ‘princeps’ (first citizen), ‘pontifex maximus’ (priest of Roman religion) and ‘tribunicia potestas’ (power over the tribune assemblies elected by the people). Augustus’s constitutional system gave way to the birth of the Principate, the first period of the Roman Empire. He is also considered the first Roman Emperor because the empire greatly expanded under his rule. Augustus died in 14 AD, and was succeeded by his step-son and adopted heir Tiberius. Augustus thus began the stable line of ‘adoptive’ Roman Emperors which ended with Marcus Aurelius’s decision to name his birth son Commodus, who came to power in 180 AD. This year is the momentous 2000th anniversary of the death of the first Roman Emperor. Even today Rome is remembered as a pinnacle of civilisation and empire and much of modern Europe continues to be shaped by its legacy.
2000 years ago today