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Biography of Augustus


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AUGUSTUS, CAIUS JULIUS CAESAR OCTAVIANUS, the son of Octavius and Aria, (the younger sister of Julius Caesar,) was born September 23rd 63 B.C. His father had risen to the rank of Senator and praetor, but died in the prime of life when Augustus was only 4 years old. In early youth his talents recommended him to his grand-uncle Julius Caesar, who adopted Augustus as his son and heir. At the time of Caesar's assassination, (March 15th 44 B.C.) Augustus was a student under the celebrated orator Apollodorus, at Appolonia, in Illyricum. He returned to Italy, assuming the name of Julius Caesar Octavianus, and at his landing at Brundusium, was welcomed by deputies from the veterans there assembled. Augustus was at first haughtily treated by the Consul, Mark Antony, who refused to surrender the property of Caesar. After some fighting in which Antony was defeated, and had to flee across the Alps, Augustus, who had made himself a favorite with the people and the army, succeeded in getting the will of Caesar carried out. When Antony returned from Gaul with Lepidus, Augustus jomed them in establishing a triumvirate. He obtained Africa, Sardinia and Sicily; Antony, Gaul; and Lepidus, Spain. Their power was soon made absolute by the massacre of those unfriendly to them in Italy, and by victories over the republican army in Macedonia, under Brutus and Cassius. After the battle of Philippi, won by Augustus and Antony, the triumvirs made a new division of the provinces - Augustus obtaining Italy and Lepidus Africa. Shortly afterwards, the claims of Sextus Pompeius and Lepidus having been settled by force and fraud, the Roman world was divided between Augustus and Antony; and a contest for supremacy commenced between them.

While Antony was lost in luxurious dissipation at the court of Cleopatra, Augustus was industriously striving to gain the love and confidence of the Roman people, and to damage his rival in public estimation. At length war was declared against the queen of Egypt, and at the naval battle of Actium, B.C., 31, Augustus was victorious and became sole ruler of the Roman world. Soon after Antony and Cleopatra ended their lives by suicide. Augustus returned to Rome in triumph, and closing the temple of Janus, proclaimed universal peace.

His subsequent measures were mild and prudent. To insure popular favor, he abolished the laws of the triumvirate, adorned the city of Rome, and reformed many abuses. At the end of his seventh consulship, (B.C. 27,) he proposed to retire from office, in order that the old republican form of government might be re-established, but was ultimately induced to retain his power. Hitherto, since Caesar's death, the Consul had been named Octavian, but now the title of Augustus, (meaning "sacred" or "consecrated") was conferred upon him. In 12 B.C., on the death of Lepidus he had the high title of Pontifex Maximus, or High Priest, conferred on him. The nation surrendered to him all the power and honor that it had to give.

Age, domestic sorrows and failing health, warned him to seek rest; and to recruit his strength he undertook a journey to Campania; but his infirmity increased, and he died at Nola, (August 19th A.D. 14) in the seventy seventh year of his age. According to tradition, shortly before his death he called for a mirror, arranged his hair neatly, and said to his attendants: "Have I played my part well? If so, applaud me." Augustus had consummate tact as a ruler and politician, and could keep his plans in secrecy while he made use of the passions and talents of others to forward his own designs. The good and great measures which marked his reign were originated mostly by Augustus himself. He so beautified Rome that it was said "Augustus found the city built of bricks, and left it built of marble." He also founded cities in several parts of the empire; and altars were raised by the grateful people to commemorate his beneficence; while by the Senate, the name Augustus was given to the month Sextilis. He encouraged agriculture, patronized the arts and literature, and was himself an author; but only a few fragments of his works have been preserved. Horace, Virgil, and all the most celebrated Latin scholars and poets, were his friends. His was the Augustan Age of literature. His death threw a shade of sorrow over the whole Roman world; the bereaved people erected temples and altars to his memory, and numbered him among the gods.