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'Southern deserves credit for carefully weighing the primary evidence, working through an overwhelming amount of secondary scholarship, and producing a clear and balanced account.' - Bryn Mawr, Classical Review
OCTAVIUS TO OCTAVIAN
The man who can justifiably be called the founder of the Roman Empire, the heir and successor of Julius Caesar and the Master of Ceremonies as the Republic was transformed into the Principate, was born simply Gaius Octavius, on 23 September 63 BC, in Rome. His family origins were relatively humble and therefore obscure. The Octavii were new men novi homines from Velitrae modern Vellitri, a Volscian town about twenty-five miles south-east of Rome. The family entered the ranks of the Roman Senate only with Octavius' father, also called Gaius Octavius, who was praetor in 61 BC. A more spectacular background would have been better documented, or at least more firmly imprinted upon living memory, and it would therefore have been more difficult, when the time came to create the legend that surrounded him, for Augustus to refashion himself, or diplomatically to forget certain events and features of his life. His early obscurity was useful to him when he came to power, for the Princeps was impenetrable by design, and by implication he was almost perfect. All human failings, save for the acceptable anecdotal foibles, were expunged from the record. `Accentuate the positive' might have been a principle established by Augustus when he composed the Res Gestae. When the propaganda machinery was in full flow, a little fictionalised biography entered the legend, connecting the Octavii of Velitrae with the family of the same name from Rome, whose lineage went back to the time of the wars with Hannibal. This connection is not proven beyond doubt, and in any case, even the Octavii of Rome were never as important as the Augustan propagandists would have us believe. To many people, noble ancestry is comforting and more acceptable than humble origins, and throughout history efforts have been made to find the relevant antecedents for parvenu leaders who found themselves in positions of power after the upheaval of civil or external wars.
But all this came later and was retrospective. Gaius Octavius, sometimes also known as Thurinus, was the son of Gaius Octavius and his second wife, Atia. The elder Gaius had been married first to Ancharia, by whom he had a daughter, called Octavia Major, to distinguish her from her half sister Octavia Minor, born to Gaius and Atia. The Octavii were wealthy equestrians, who ran their banking business at Velitrae, and were members of the aristocracy of the town, which became a Roman colony in the fifth century BC. Suetonius says that there were many indications that the Octavian family was a distinguished one at Velitrae. A street in the most busy area of the town was named after them, and there was an altar consecrated by an Octavius whose claim to fame derived from his prompt improvisation during a sacrifice to Mars. He was interrupted, so the story goes, by news that troops from a neighbouring town were about to attack, so he quickly gathered the entrails of the sacrificial beast, offered them to the god in their unprepared state, went off to battle, and won. Such was the legend. In the event of his failure, of course, he would have gone down in history as an unprincipled, sacrilegious type whose fate should be a warning to all. The people of Velitrae were so pleased with the action of Octavius that they decreed that henceforth all sacrifices to Mars should be conducted in the same manner, and the remains of the sacrificed animals should be offered to the Octavii.
The association with Velitrae was ineradicable, so deeply rooted that many people were prepared to state that Octavius, the future Princeps Augustus, was born there, but it is certain that he was born in Rome, at the Oxheads ad Capita Bubula on the Palatine Hill, not far from the Sacra Via, which runs from the bottom of the Palatine to the Senate House in the Forum Romanum. Octavius' father had first entered the Senate when he was appointed quaestor, perhaps in 70 BC. The primary necessity for entry to the Senate was wealth, and this the Octavii possessed from their banking business and their landed interests, so that by 70 they had accumulated the necessary sums 400,000 sesterces, increased to 1,000,000 or 1,200,000 in the early Empire to enable Gaius Octavius to embark upon his senatorial career. When the child Octavius was two years old Gaius Octavius senior was elected praetor, having followed the usual career of military tribune, quaestor, then plebeian aedile.
The stepping stones to political eminence in Republican Rome did not consist solely of possession of a sizeable fortune and successive tenure of the various military and civilian posts that preceded the consulship. It was absolutely vital to seek connections with eminent men. Above all it was necessary to marry well, thus forming alliances with the most influential families. This is what Gaius Octavius did in 65 when he chose Atia as his second wife. She was well connected, being the daughter of Atius Balbus from Aricia, and his wife Julia, the sister of Julius Caesar, who at that time was a rising politician. Although he was related to Pompeius Magnus through his mother, Atius Balbus had not profited from this relationship to become an influential man. It was Caesar who was rapidly gaining that distinction, so from the young Gaius Octavius' point of view the pre-eminent family connections were with the Julii, and this fact would have been impressed upon him from the moment he was born. Though he scarcely saw Julius until he was in his teens, he would have been fully aware of him via his mother.
The events of 63 BC, when Octavius was born, brought Cicero to prominence. Cicero was consul in that year, and never afterwards let anyone forget that he had saved the state when he secured the condemnation of Catiline and his fellow conspirators. During the debates in the Senate about the punishment of Catiline, Gaius Julius Caesar spoke against execution of the conspirators, and he later criticised Cicero for having authorised the death penalty. Caesar had just become Pontifex Maximus, and was also engaged in ardent `left wing' politics, typified by his prosecution, in partnership with the tribune Titus Labienus, of Gaius Rabirius for his part in the death of the tribune Saturninus, nearly four decades earlier. The point at issue was the sacrosanctity of tribunes, which Caesar milked for all that it was worth, not simply to ensure the future health and safety of tribunes, but primarily to ensure his own political importance and popularity. Caesar was becoming a force to be reckoned with, but at the moment he could not hope to stand alone. Later, when he allied himself to M. Licinius Crassus and Pompeius Magnus, he would lay the foundations of the road that brought his great nephew to supreme power.
As a young child, Octavius possibly knew more of Julius Caesar than he did of his own father, whom he cannot have known very intimately. From the end of 61 until late in 59 the elder Gaius was absent as governor of Macedonia, where he conducted himself with credit, at least in the opinion of Cicero. The sources do not inform us that he took his wife and children with him. Shortly after his return, on the threshold of a consular career, he died suddenly before he could present himself as a candidate for the consular elections. Thus from the age of four until he was about six or seven years old, when his mother married again, Octavius was fatherless. During these formative years, he was educated by Atia, or so Tacitus says in his Dialogues, when he compared the older, and in his opinion better, methods of child rearing, as exemplified by Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, Aurelia, the mother of Caesar, and Atia, the mother of Augustus. By the time that Dio took up the theme, the stories of Octavius' childhood had passed right through hyperbole to emerge as fabulous legend. Stories proliferated, mostly consisting of prophecies of a glorious future: for example, it was said that both his mother and his father, and also various senators, saw Octavius in their dreams, usually accompanied by omens which clearly prophesied that he would one day rule the world; in more modest dreams it was foreseen that he would reorganise the state. Dio says that Caesar took the boy under his wing, and ensured that he was educated suitably for world rule. This is retrospective padding. Octavius was educated, certainly, and he may have learned much from Caesar, but it is questionable whether he was given lessons in world domination, which is what is implied by Dio's statement. More prosaically Octavius would have been educated as were other Roman boys. He was trained as an orator, in both Latin and Greek. Suetonius asserts that Augustus could neither speak nor write Greek with any fluency, but he is contradicted by the elder Pliny who says that he could. Concerning his later education, Dio tells us that Octavius was put through military service, and instructed in politics and the art of government. There is no solid evidence for this, only the retrospective assumption that somewhere along the way Octavius had learned all these things. As a young boy he could not have learned anything at first hand from Caesar, since the two probably did not meet until Octavius was 15 or 16 years old. In the year when Octavius' father died, Julius Caesar was consul, and in the following year he left Rome to take up his post as proconsul of Gaul. It is not known how closely Octavius followed the career of his great uncle, but as a young child he could scarcely have been unaware that Julius was consul. As the years went by, he would know that his great uncle was steadily gaining fame for himself during the conquest of Gaul. Octavius would also know that Caesar's daughter Julia was married to Pompeius Magnus, and that the wealthy Crassus was somehow associated with these two men. A very young child cannot be expected to be politically aware, but he would hear the names and titles, and make something of the information as he grew up.
After the death of her husband, Atia was eligible for remarriage, and her connections with the Julian family would enhance her marital value. Since noble alliances were of paramount importance, without doubt Caesar himself would have expressed keen interest in her future. Any potential suitor would need to be vetted by him, even at a distance. At best, a new alliance might be of assistance to him, and at worst he would need to ensure that he would not be compromised during the rest of his political career. While Caesar was still in Gaul, but doubtless with his sanction, Atia was married for the second time, in 57 or 56, to L. Marcius Philippus, who had just returned from his term of office in Syria in time to stand for the consular elections. He was duly elected consul for 56. Philippus trod a careful path between factions in Rome: allied on the one hand to Caesar, he was also attached on the other hand to the powerful elite known as the optimates by the marriage of his daughter Marcia to Cato. He remained on the sidelines of the political scene, and if he did not distinguish himself, neither was he completely extinguished; he neither antagonised nor actively supported either party, and diplomatically remained neutral during the civil war between Pompeius and Caesar.
During the late Republic the Roman political scene was dominated by three men, acting in concert in a combination misleadingly known to modern scholars as the `First Triumvirate', a title which bestows on the loose alliance a permanence and a sophisticated organisation that it never possessed. In order to place the union of Caesar, Pompeius and Crassus in context it is necessary to review the chief events of the previous fifty years and more, for it was not simply the latest round of civil wars that formed the inheritance of Augustus when he put into effect his so-called restoration of the Republic. For many years before the conflict between Caesar and Pompeius, the Republic had reeled and recovered from successive wars, riots and disturbances. Some scholars would place the beginning of the end as far back as the wars with Hannibal, or with the agrarian legislation of Tiberius Gracchus in 133, while others find the cause of collapse in the Social War in 90, or the prolonged struggle between Marius and Sulla. These were significant and successive stages in the history of Rome, leading to the extraordinary commands and the growth of personal power that characterised the late Republic. When Sulla made his infamous march on the city it was the first time that a Roman magistrate had secured control of the government by means of an army, and furthermore he was not brought to trial for the murder of his opponents. He secured the command against Mithridates in the East, but the war was prolonged and while he was absent his opponents regained control in Rome. On his return, he was appointed Dictator for an unlimited term, with supreme powers, which he used to suppress his enemies with brutal determination. After he had set the state in order according to his oligarchic tenets, he laid down his powers and retired. But the rot had set in; his measures to secure the state did not long survive him, because he himself had set the example of how to obtain and wield power. Thereafter, personal interests, shifting allegiances, and extraordinary commands became more common. Individuals could now gather power into their own hands supported by their armies, and the Senate was quite unable to resist. The career of Pompeius illustrates the point. He raised a private army to fight for Sulla in 83; some years later he defeated the popular leader Sertorius, then obtained the consulship, in spite of being well below the minimum age and without having held any of the qualifying offices. The fact that he had his army behind him was extremely persuasive -- and a lesson for the future. Pompeius duly became consul. He then set about reversing what Sulla had done. Most notably he restored the powers of the tribunate, an office which he utilised soon afterwards to pass the necessary legislation to obtain his special commands. After his consulship he did not seek a province, but his commands against the Mediterranean pirates, and then against Mithridates in the East, were much more glorious than the mundane governorship of a province.
Pompeius did not receive his commands without opposition, which was still not subdued when he returned to Rome in 62. Even so, he did not march on the city at the head of his troops. Rather than embroil the state in civil war, Pompeius laid down his command and disbanded his army. Perhaps he thought that the weight of his prestige would be sufficient to persaude the Senate to co-operate with him, but for three years he could make no headway. His arrangements for the newly conquered Eastern provinces, and for the client kingdoms, were debated endlessly, with ratification always deferred; authorisation for his promised distribution of land to his soldiers was not forthcoming. His accumulated prestige was deliberately eroded, and since there was no tremendous danger from which the state needed to be saved, he could not recover his pre-eminence by dashing off to do something heroic. Undoubtedly competent on the military battlefield, on the political battlefield he was beginning to look foolish. Disgusted and at his wits' end, he threw in his lot with Caesar, whose election to the consulship in 59 owed much to Pompeius' support. Bibulus was elected as Caesar's colleague, which reveals that the combined weight of Pompeius, Caesar and Crassus, who were still secretive about their alliance, was not yet influential enough to control the elections entirely. Caesar quickly neutralised Bibulus' feeble opposition, leaving the field clear for the promotion of the personal designs of each of the members of the three-man combine. The arrangement was one of mutual support; Caesar needed Pompeius for his political stature, because his own standing did not yet equal that of the greatest soldier in Rome. Pompeius needed Caesar because he required an energetic consul with few scruples, who would push through the necessary ratification of his plans. Crassus joined the group for reasons which are less clear. He was the only serious rival to Pompeius, and their rivalry persisted for life, but Crassus could not afford to let the alliance of Pompeius and Caesar eclipse his own political standing. All these three men were concerned, first and foremost, with their own interests.
In 59 Caesar forced through legislation with scant regard either for Bibulus or the finer points of law. At the end of his consulship, he had shackled the opposition. He cemented the alliance with Pompeius by arranging a marriage in the spring of 59 between the latter and his daughter Julia; it seems to have been a successful arrangement, and a marriage with more affection than a political arrangement warranted. For the time being, it was hardly noticeable that the `Triumvirate' existed. Relations between the three members eventually broke down while Caesar was engaged on the conquest of Gaul. Pompeius found himself isolated and attacked. Crassus did not help him. Having severed some of his aristocratic connections, Pompeius had only a narrow choice of allies, and was thrown once more into the arms of Caesar. In 56 the three met at Luca to thrash out their difficulties and make plans for the future. Pompeius and Crassus were to be consuls for 55; they were more certain now of their grip on the elections. Caesar obtained, via the Lex Pompeia Licinia passed when the two took up their consulship, an extension of five years on his command in Gaul. After their joint consulship, provincial commands would follow for Pompeius and Crassus. Pompeius received command of Spain, but did not leave Italy, choosing instead to govern his province via subordinates, a novel arrangement, and an important precedent. Crassus received the Parthian command, where he came to grief in 53. His death, combined with that of Julia in 54, has been highlighted as the reason why the unofficial alliance broke down, leading to an inevitable rift and then civil war between Caesar and Pompieus. Gruen has challenged this conclusion, pointing out that there was no reason why political co-operation could not have continued, and that it was neither Crassus nor Julia who welded the three men together. After Julia's death, Caesar offered Octavia, sister of Octavius, in marriage to Pompeius. The great man refused her and looked elsewhere; this need not mean that he was turning away from Caesar entirely, but it was a significant move, indicating that Pompeius intended to go it alone or change direction. Whatever the reasons behind the declining relations between Caesar and Pompeius, conditions worsened after 53, eventually leading to war. It is certain that Crassus' death loosened his political alliances; most important, it left his clients without a leader. One of Crassus' sons died with him at Carrhae; the other, Marcus Crassus the younger, was a confirmed Caesarian. Many of Crassus' followers joined Caesar, thus creating an imbalance between him and Pompeius.
From the age of eleven to fourteen, Octavius would witness and take note of the political manoeuvring at Rome as it became increasingly obvious that a war between Caesar and Pompeius was brewing. As a close relative of one of the chief protagonists, it would hardly have been possible to remain neutral, because even the most mundane family affairs took on a political flavour. Octavius made his first public appearance at the age of eleven when he delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother Julia, the sister of Caesar. Family connections and solidarity would feature largely in this performance. He would have known that Caesar had also made a similar funeral oration for his aunt Julia, the wife of Marius, at a time when connection with Marius was downright unhealthy, if not actually lethal. Funeral speeches were as much political gestures as they were acts of piety. They were historic occasions, when busts of famous or not so famous ancestors were displayed, and their noble deeds recalled. In making his speech for his grandmother, Octavius would necessarily have been conscious of his family history, and in this connection would have taken note of the current exploits of his great uncle. He could not have been indifferent to the debate that centred on the termination of Caesar's command in Gaul, and the legislative technicalities that surrounded it. The major problem was that Caesar needed the consulship immediately after his proconsulship, so that he could step from one appointment to the next without giving up his imperium. Any gap between the Gallic command and the consulship would leave him at the mercy of prosecution by anyone who cared to bring a charge against him, and throughout his career, especially during his consulship in 59, he had made so many enemies and behaved in such a way as to give them all plenty of scope to prosecute him for any one of his dubious acts. It was not necessarily true that anyone would dare to prosecute him, nor was it a foregone conclusion that Caesar would be condemned if anyone did so. It was a thinly disguised excuse to preserve power intact and uninterrupted, but Caesar was not prepared to give up or to compromise. He therefore desired to be allowed to stand for the consulship in absentia, and in order to obtain this concession he required collaborators in Rome. The best method was to have a tribune propose that he should be a candidate without having to appear in person. As sole consul in 52, Pompeius did co-operate with Caesar, but then passed a law, the Lex Pompeia de iure magistratuum, requiring candidates to present themselves in person. This has been interpreted either as double dealing or as forgetful incompetence; Gruen suggests that in fact it was perfectly acceptable for Pompeius to pass this law, since it did not affect Caesar, whose case, examined and sanctioned by the people, would be regarded as a legitimate exception. Pompeius simply wanted to ensure that the practice of standing for the consular elections in absentia did not become a habit.
Next came the Lex Pompeia de provinciis which stated that there should be a five-year gap between the tenure of a magistracy at Rome and the government of a province. This meant that the men who were currently in office in Rome would not be the ones who were eligible for provincial governorships the following year, which in turn meant that until the first five years had elapsed, governors would have to be chosen from among the ex-consuls and ex-praetors who were qualified for, but did not necessarily aspire to, this sort of appointment. Thus Cicero was obliged to become governor of Cilicia, very much against his will, because for Cicero the only possible life was in Rome itself. More pertinent to Caesar's problems, it would not now be necessary to wait until a magistrate had completed his current term of office before sending him to take over in Gaul; any of the available pool of men of consular rank could be appointed to succeed Caesar the moment his command expired, thus exposing him to a short term as a privatus, when he would almost certainly be prosecuted and would definitely have to give up his imperium. Once again there was no very determined effort to oust Caesar from his position, since Pompeius inserted a clause into this law to safeguard him, treating him as a legitimate exception.
Pompeius himself was, as sole consul, also a legitimate exception. His position has been described as both anomalous and unprecedented, and it was not entirely to his credit that he had achieved it in a time of upheaval. He had employed his usual tactics of not actively seeking office himself, but allowing others to agitate on his behalf while he waited until the situation became so intolerable that in the end the Senate was forced to ask him to take up the reins of state. In the constitutional difficulties of 53, the Senate did not favour any of the candidates for the consulship, and cancelled the elections for the consulships of 52. Disorder prevailed, and the supporters of Pompeius insisted that he should be made Dictator; others clamoured for the joint rule of both Pompeius and Caesar. The senators reacted badly to this last idea, and hastily reached a political compromise proposed by Cato; they appointed Pompeius sole consul, which was a contradiction in terms and an exercise in careful terminology in order to avoid a more emotive title. Octavius perhaps took note of the extent to which the Senate would tolerate the reality of power, provided that it was decently masked by appropriate titles that retained a veneer of legality. Whatever the title bestowed upon him, it had to be recognised that Pompeius was the only man apart from Caesar who could restore order, but the Senate shrank from appointing him Dictator. Too many could remember Sulla. Apart from the constitutional and legal limitations that distinguished the powers of a consul who was subject to tribunician veto from the comprehensive powers of a Dictator who was not it was almost purely an argument of semantics. With the accumulation of powers accruing to him, and by dint of his prestige and auctoritas, Pompeius was Dictator in all but name. He was chief magistrate at Rome, without a colleague, and he was at the same time governor of Spain, employing deputies to govern for him. He had access to armed force, if he so desired, while still consul; this was quite unconstitutional, since the consuls were supposed to lay down their military powers when they entered the city. If Octavius learned much from Caesar, he surely learned one or two useful lessons from Pompeius, and from the interaction between Pompeius and the Senate. If not handled too arbitrarily, and allowed to exercise some power, or at least to imagine that they could do so if they wished, most senators were tractable enough.
In 51 it was rumoured that Caesar intended to enfranchise the Transpadane Gauls, which would increase his clientelae immeasurably, and men at Rome began to worry. The consul M. Marcellus challenged the enfranchisement, precipitating agitation to recall Caesar, who was not yet ready to return to Rome. He had just defeated Vercingetorix, and the siege of Alesia was over, but the war was nowhere near conclusion; he would need much more time to settle affairs in Gaul. If his five-year term agreed at Luca were to be taken seriously it meant that his proconsulship would not terminate until the early months of 50; it is unlikey that the Lex Pompeia Licinia contained a clause that specifically recorded a terminal date. Even though Marcellus' attacks became more pertinently directed towards Caesar, any discussion of his recall was deferred until 1 March 50.
The termination of Caesar's command was always the crucial point. Caesar himself later claimed that he had been allowed to stand for the consulship in 49 for election to office in 48. This does not sit well with the evidence, but, for reasons which can only be guessed, Caesar did not choose to stand for the consular elections in 50. From then onwards, the support of Pompeius for Caesar steadily waned. He rejected the idea that Caesar could hold imperium in his province and be consul at the same time, despite the fact that he had set the precedent himself. Gruen affirms that `one cannot divide Rome into Caesarians and Pompeians even as late as the year 50', but despite the absence of a definite polarisation of factions, there was already a growing body of resentment against both dynasts. All attempts at compromise were blocked by the tribune Curio, who swept aside suggestions in order to propose a compromise of his own, namely that both Pompeius and Caesar should lay down their commands simultaneously. The Senate voted 370 to 22 in favour of the motion, and the people displayed unequivocal enthusiasm for it, but the proposal was never implemented, despite its obvious popularity. The Loptimates were determined to block Caesar, and the one sure method of achieving their aim was to bring Pompeius into their own camp. As part of the plan, Gaius Marcellus inflated rumours that Caesar was about to invade Italy, and as consul he theatrically entrusted Pompeius with the safety of the state. Pompeius took command of the troops in Italy and began to talk of war. It was the only way to preserve his pre-eminence and his partisans. Affairs were rapidly coming to a head. Some attempt at negotiation was still feasibe, but all proposals failed. Pompeius was prepared to accept Caesar's offer to give up his armies and provinces, except for two legions and command over Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul, but the consuls would not agree to this proposal. Next, Curio brought a letter from Caesar, suggesting that he would give up his command if Pompeius did the same, but he added threats that if Pompeius retained his armies, he would not give up his own, and instead he would avenge the wrongs done to him and his country. This incendiary talk was seen as a declaration of war. Appian documents the succeeding uproar. The Senate appointed Lucius Domitius as Caesar's successor, declared Pompeius protector of Rome, and Caesar an enemy of the state. The tribunes M. Antonius and Q. Cassius were thrown out of the Senate House, and instantly made their way to Caesar disguised as slaves. Ever alive to the value of inflammatory propaganda, Caesar showed the tribunes to the troops in their dishevelled condition, explaining that after all their heroic deeds the only reward that the Senate thought fit for the soldiers was to label them public enemies. This was his sole means of justifying what was none the less a putsch. It was also very effective.
After the battle of Pharsalus and the defeat of Pompeius, Caesar declared for posterity that `they would have it so', thus placing all the blame on the enemy and exonerating himself from any intention to start a war. He may not have been exaggerating unduly. Motives for the civil war between him and Pompeius derived as much from the machinations of other self-interested parties as from the will of either of the generals, but the situation quickly escalated to the point where neither party could back down. Caesar insisted that he was forced into war, that he fought for freedom from monopolisation of power by a faction, and that his prime concerns were defence of the constitution and the rights of tribunes. In reality it was a struggle for personal survival with powers intact. Survival per se was hardly important. For the Romans fear of death was far outweighed by fear of loss of prestige and dignitas. The state had become too small for both Pompeius and Caesar; neither could subordinate himself to the other, and given that both of them stood at the head of a complex and widespread series of alliances that formed powerful factions, the inevitable conflict could not be confined to the purely personal sphere.
Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the river that marked the boundary of his province, beyond which he could not legally travel at the head of troops, at the beginning of January 49. He moved so fast that he took Rome by surprise. Pompeius was quite unprepared to meet Caesar in the field, and since he was far too good a general to be unaware of this fact, or to risk fighting a battle before he was ready, he retreated to the south, finally leaving Italy altogether. He embarked at Brundisium, and sailed across the Adriatic to Dyrrachium where he gathered his army and those senators who remained loyal to him. Deprived of an army to fight, Caesar spent a few days in Rome. He would be in a great hurry, and very busy, but it is not impossible that he and Octavius met at this time. Even if they did not meet, Octavius would watch and learn. One of Caesar's first acts was to seize the treasury aerarium to finance his immediate needs. This money had been lodged there long ago in the history of the Republic, after the disastrous invasion of Italy by the Gauls. The money was dedicated to the defence of Rome against a similar threat, and anyone who removed it, for any other purpose than for making war against the Gauls, would find himself under a public curse: there may have been at least the hint of a smile on Caesar's face when he pre-empted criticism by pointing out that since he had defeated the Gauls, he was presumably exempt from the effects of such a curse.
The few senators who had remained in Rome probably did not put up much resistance to Caesar, but this is understandable, since he was backed up by thousands of battle-hardened troops who would not hesitate to execute whoever their general pointed out to them. There were some arrangements to be made for the defence of Italy and neighbouring provinces before Caesar could leave Rome. He left Marcus Antonius in charge of troops in Italy, appointed his adherents to commands in Sicily, Sardinia, Illyricum and Cisalpine Gaul, and then turned first to Spain, where Pompeius' legates, Petreius and Afranius, commanded armies. Caesar declared that he was going to meet an army without a leader, and he would then go to Dyrrachium to meet a leader without an army. After initial reverses, he defeated the lieutenants of Pompeius at Ilerda in August 49.
On his return to Rome, Caesar was supreme, but not everyone was cowed by his power. Cicero recounts popular demonstrations against Caesar in the theatre in the spring of 49. Otherwise, as the war in Spain progressed, and when Caesar turned his attention to Pompeius himself, it was business as usual at Rome. The praetor Lepidus proposed that Caesar should be made Dictator, and the Senate agreed. Utilising this office to obtain what he wanted quickly and without fuss, Caesar made appointments of magistrates and priests for the following year, then he abdicated, since as Dio pointed out, he already possessed all the authority and functions that he could possibly require, backed up as he was by his armies. He was elected consul for 48, and left Italy on 4 January that same year for the war against Pompeius. He did not return to Rome until September 47. After his defeat at Pharsalus, Pompeius fled to Egypt, where he was murdered by a nervous palace staff, who thought to please Caesar and avoid a Roman war on their own territory. There was already a war between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy, and when Caesar arrived in pursuit of Pompeius, he took charge, remaining in Egypt long enough to stabilise the political situation there. This was highly relevant to Roman interests, since most of Rome's corn supply could be found in Egypt; as a potential acquisition this ancient kingdom was far too valuable to ignore. Once he had established Cleopatra as Queen, Caesar conducted a campaign against Pharnaces in the East. In the meantime, in Rome, Octavius assumed the toga virilis on 18 October at the age of fifteen. This was a public, formal ceremony, during which boys laid aside the toga praetexta that marked their youth, and became officially enrolled as adult citizens. The normal age was seventeen, which was also the age when military service began, and the legal age at which a man could be prosecuted. In the early Empire, the lowering of the age of the assumption of the toga virilis was regarded as a distinction of honour, and Augustus' grandsons Gaius and Lucius assumed it at the same age as Octavius, at iifteen. Nicolaus of Damascus gives Octavius' age as only fourteen when the ceremony took place, but the evidence from Suetonius weighs against this. According to Die, the ceremonial dressing was marred by a potentially bad omen, which Octavius turned to good account. While he was putting on his tunic, the seams came apart and it fell to the ground. With great presence of mind, Octavius said 'I shall have all the senatorial dignity at my feet.' The story is most probably a later interpolation, but it is not at odds with Octavius' character, since it illustrates a quick mind working at its manipulative best."
Though he was now officially a man, Octavius was still subject to parental discipline, according to Nicolaus; Atia seems to have retained strict control of her son, not allowing him to go out except on legitimate business, and making him sleep in the same apartment as before. No adolescent resent- ment is recorded, but that would be in defiance of the legend. One can only speculate whether ambition already smouldered under the surface of this strict control, waiting with calculated patience for an opportunity to burst into flame. If he harboured such feelings, Octavius controlled them well; self-control was his hallmark in later life, and he seems to have regretted bitterly the few occasions when he lost it. Perhaps he began to practise it whilst still very young. Shortly after assuming the toga virilis he took up his first official tasks. Nicolaus tells us that the people elected him to one of the preisthoods, as pontifex in place of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus who had died. Behind this bland statement lurk a covert fact or two which were not emphasised in Nicolaus' narrative. The election was at the request of Julius Caesar, and therefore not quite so spontaneous as Nicolaus suggests, and Domitius Ahenobarbus had not simply died but had been killed at Pharsalus. Nicolaus glossed over these reminders of the Civil War between Pompeius and Caesar, concentrating instead on the glorification of his subject. The office of pontifex was a high honour, and one which Octavius took very seriously. He was conscientious in the performance of his duties, though according to Nicolaus he had to undertake them all after dark because, being a remarkably attractive youth, this was the only way that he could avoid the unwelcome attentions of women, thus preserving his chastity.
Julius Caesar returned to Rome in September 47, and remained until the end of the year. He had been appointed Dictator for the second time, after the battle of Pharsalus, probably with fuller powers than before, but with a fixed term of office, due to expire in October 47. The exact details are uncertain, but he seems to have relinquished the Dictatorship at the prescribed time. He was elected consul, with M. Lepidus as his colleague, for 46. Since he was not due to take up office until 1 January, and had probably renounced the Dictatorship the previous October, it might seem that he was potentially powerless, but in reality he was still supreme because he had not relinquished his proconsular imperium and the command of his armies. Technically, he could not wield proconsular power in the city, and was supposed to lay down command of his troops the moment he crossed the pomerium or city limits, but somehow no one thought to raise the legal niceties with him. Secure in his position as first man in Rome, he threw himself into the task of restoring the state. There was much to do, and for Caesar it was a race against time because he could not postpone for very long the impending war against the remnants of the Pompeian armies in Africa. In a great rush, he restored order in the city, conducted elections of the magistrates for the last few months of 47, and tried to ease the parlous economic situation which had been the direct cause of rioting in Rome. Marcus Antonius, Caesar's master of horse magister equitum, was currently out of favour because he had been far too brutal in quelling the riots. It was not only the civilian population who were discontented. Caesar's veteran soldiers, assembled in Campania for the coming African war, decided that they had fought long enough without the just rewards that had been promised to them but had never yet materialised. It is human nature, after throwing all energies into something for sustained periods without much tangible profit, to look up once in a while and ask 'Why am I doing this!' Caesar showed no sign of ever stopping, and by now the soldiers wanted a deadline. When their discontent came to a head, they marched on Rome to confront Caesar. He met them calmly, listened to their requests for discharge, and then addressed them, not as commilitones, fellow soldiers, but as Quirites, citizens, and with that one word brought them back to unswerving loyalty. Whether or not Octavius was present, he could not fail to have heard the story. It is not too fanciful to suggest that Caesar elaborated upon it over dinner, or at some other occasion, and Octavius would have learned a valuable lesson in man-management. Caesar called the soldiers' bluff, and they knew him well enough to realise that he would go ahead without them, recruit new troops and probably still win the war against the Pompeians in Africa, thus depriving the original war-weary Caesarians of the victory and the booty.
It can never be known whether Caesar took the time to discuss the political and military situation with Octavius, but he did take the time to promote him, by having him appointed praefectus urbi, city prefect, during the celebration of the Feriae Latinae. This was a religious festival dating back to the conquest of Alba Longa during the early Republic. All the magistrates, including the tribunes of the plebs, left the city to perform the ceremonies at the Alban Mount, and in the intervening period the priests took over the official functions the consuls. The office of prefect of the city was originally created to oversee public order in Rome while the magistrates were absent. It was a purely honorary appointment, but since the holder of the office became token head of the government for one or two days, he would be under the public eye and marked out for greater things in the future. The duties were primarily to conduct legal business. According to Dio it was quite usual in Republican times for adolescents to be appointed to the office during the celebrations of the Feriae Latinae. It was only in the reign of Tiberius and later Emperors that the permanent city prefect was created, fulfilling much more important and extensive functions, quite separate from the duties carried out by the prefects of the Feriae Latinae, who continued to be appointed during the Empire, alongside the usual praefectus urbi. In the late Republic, the tasks would not be too onerous, and would provide valuable administrative experience.
The career structure followed by most Romans embraced both civil and military posts, usually in a predictable succession. It was considered vitally important for Roman youths to gain experience of military affairs as soon as possible, so Caesar proposed that Octavius should accompany him on his expedition to Africa, where he planned to make war on the Pompeians. Unfortunately Octavius was constantly plagued by ill-health, and was unable to take advantage of his great-uncle's offer. The continual illnesses documented throughout Augustus' life defy clear explanation. The precise medical conditions have not been described, and in any case, the illnesses may not have sprung from the same cause; viruses and food poisoning may have been to blame on some occasions, and there were probably some periods of total exhaustion and possibly sunstroke. On this occasion Atia protested, and Caesar did not pursue the matter so as not to endanger the boy's fragile constitution. He could not wait to fight the war, but perhaps he thought he could afford to wait to take the young man under his wing.
Caesar left Italy in December 47 and was absent for seven months. He won the battle of Thapsus on 6 April 46 and the news reached Rome on the 20th, but after the battle there was much to occupy the victors, so Caesar remained in Africa until July 46. The Senate granted him fresh honours, more extensive than before. A festival of thanksgiving to last for forty days was voted to him after the news of the victory reached the city. It was decided, possibly by popular election, that he should be Dictator for ten years and praefectus morum for three years. The latter appointment was something new; it was clearly derived from the powers of the censor, and presumably gave him the means of controlling the membership of the Senate. More extravagantly, a statue of Caesar with a globe at his feet was erected in the Capitoline Temple, with an inscription reminding onlookers of his divine descent from Venus. Very soon after the erection of this statue, Caesar had the inscription removed, so it is known only from secondary reports by ancient authors, whose own sources are not established. The text and even the language are unknown. Although Latin would have been the obvious choice, some authorities insist that the inscription may have been in Greek. It seems to have described Caesar as divus, or the equivalent in Greek, implying that he was a living god, and not just of divine descent. Perhaps he thought that this was going a little too far, or even that it was tempting fate, begging the gods to put him firmly in his mortal place. Some authors suggest that the opposite is true, and that Caesar was disgruntled because it was not enough for his ambitions; but one may wonder what earthly honours were left to Caesar after deification whilst still alive. More honours may have been voted to him in addition to those listed here, but he may have refused them. Dio says that he includes in his list of honours only those that Caesar accepted, which does suggest that some discretion may have been exercised in choosing which to take on and which to reject.
Octavius was closely associated with Caesar from the summer of 46 onwards, and Nicolaus of Damascus makes much of this association. He may have been influenced by the material included in Augustus' Memoirs which possibly also laid great emphasis on the connection with Caesar at this point in Octavius' career. The Memoirs were written at a comparatively early stage, before Augustus had become the elder statesman in his own right. Later in his life he played down the Caesarian antecedents to his long reign, but in the early days he used the association to enhance his reputation, almost as a prop, since by reminding the relevant people of Caesar he won their support. As a youth he accompanied his great-uncle everywhere, to the theatre, to banquets and other social gatherings: he received military decorations dona militaria and even rode behind Caesar's chariot in the triumph celebrated after the African war, despite the fact that he had played no part in it. He developed a certain influence with the great man, if Nicolaus is to be believed, but naturally he employed it only for the benefit of others and not for his own gain. People approached him to intercede on their behalf with the Dictator, but Octavius was careful not to ask for favours at inopportune moments, thus displaying the intelligent diplomacy that he scarcely ever lost throughout his life. In one instance, he was particularly successful when he intervened on behalf of his friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, whose brother had been taken prisoner while fighting on the Pompeian side in Africa. Caesar was known to be ill-disposed towards these particular captives since many of them had fought against him in more than one war. On occasion he allowed himself to be persuaded to release one or two of them, so Agrippa's brother went free. Significantly he did not reach the same heights as Marcus Agrippa himself; Octavius perhaps knew where favours had to stop. The chief interest of the story lies in the fact that he and Agrippa were not simply acquaintances at this time, but firm friends, and had no doubt been so since their schooldays.
During the long hot summer of 46, Caesar turned his attention to the many administrative tasks left unfinished because of the wars. Among the most famous was the reform of the calendar. The old calendar was based on a lunar reckoning, and every two years an extra month had to be inserted to keep the record straight. This intercalation had been grossly neglected in the turmoil of the civil wars, so that the seasons no longer matched the months that were normally associated with them. Caesar introduced a calendar based on a solar year, still in use nowadays, with 365 days to each year and one extra day inserted every four years. In order to adapt the Roman calendar to this new way of reckoning, it was necessary to lengthen the year 46 by a total of 67 days, so that the seasons lined up with the months again; Caesar had already added the extra lunar month in February, but that was not sufficient, so he added two more between November and December. In the summer Octavius was entrusted with the direction of the theatrical productions designed for the benefit and entertainment one might also add distraction of the populace. He attended all the performances, and at the end of his tasks fell ill, probably as a result of sunstroke. Suetonius notes that Augustus could never withstand the effects of the sun and never went anywhere without a hat; possibly he had learned this precautionary measure the hard way, and as a youth had for a short while scorned the protective value of hats. Whatever the ailment he was dangerously ill. It is recorded that Caesar was extremely concerned, on one occasion leaping up from his dinner to go and sit by his young kinsman's bedside. Octavius recovered, but not in sufficient time to accompany Caesar to Spain, where the elder son of Pompeius Magnus had assembled a large anti-Caesarian force. The threat was serious, so Caesar left Rome at the end of the year without allowing enough time to conduct the elections of the magistrates for 45. As a temporary measure Caesar was appointed sole consul. Since he was already Dictator, he scarcely needed the powers, but this may have been a political stopgap, or at least a deliberate ploy to defer the decisions about who should or should not become consul until he returned.
As soon as he was well enough, Octavius set out on his own initiative to follow Caesar, accompanied by a few friends, among whom no doubt Agrippa was included. This was the first time that Octavius showed his mettle, for it was no light undertaking to travel alone to a distant theatre of war without considerable armed protection. He seems to have arrived too late to witness the battle of Munda, but the details are obscure. Suetonius and Velleius Paterculus simply inform their readers that Octavius followed Caesar to Spain, and Dio is slightly misleading in that he makes it sound as though Octavius was with Caesar throughout the whole campaign. Nicolaus of Damascus does not mention the fighting at all, as he surely would have done if his hero Octavius had played even the smallest part in the battle of Munda. He lays more emphasis on the conversations that Caesar held with his great-nephew, when they discussed current problems and Caesar asked for his opinion, which he gave intelligently, concisely and without straying from the point. This incisive judgement seems to have been one of the most prominent features of the young Octavius, who skilfully avoided saying too much or too little, just as he avoided either offending or becoming too closely involved with people who might later compromise him. He was aware even then that every deed, every word, contributed to the formation of his reputation, and once a word was spoken or an action performed it could not be undone, so he was careful to confine his actions and his utterances to those areas where they might conceivably count for something. According to Nicolaus, Octavius was already giving no little thought to the foundations of a good reputation at home. There is no reason to doubt this, no matter that Octavius perhaps did not foresee at this stage the heights to which his reputation would eventually climb. Nicolaus' text more than likely derives, in written or oral form, from Augustus himself, and ideally it presents to the world the portrait of the young Octavius as Augustus wished him to be portrayed. Looking back on his early behaviour, Augustus would be in a better position than anybody else to recognise his own most pertinent and salient traits, without which he could not have survived, let alone achieved anything significant.
Caesar remained in Spain until June 45, attending to the administration of the provinces, and perhaps quite consciously laying the foundations for future Imperial government. He settled time-expired veterans, and Spanish tribesmen who had fought loyally for Rome, in newly founded colonies and in existing cities, especially harbours and ports on the east coast of Spain, which were then elevated to colonial status. While he and Octavius were at New Carthage an embassy arrived from Saguntum. They were desperate to clear their city of certain charges laid against it, and chose Octavius as their spokesman. He reasoned so well and so modestly with Caesar that he effected the pardon of the Saguntines, thus earning their undying gratitude. Nicolaus details more of the same adulation about Octavius' modesty, charm, intelligence, and his influence with Caesar, but all these points have already been made and it would appear superfluous, if not sickening, to repeat them. On the journey back to Rome, Marcus Antonius joined the party in northern Italy, and travelled in Caesar's carriage, while Octavius travelled in the next carriage with Decimus Brutus. Clearly Antonius was now back in favour, and it would be interesting to know the main topics of his conversations with Caesar at this point, but they have not been recorded. Nor have the conversations of Octavius and Decimus Brutus; they were presumably very circumspect, polite and convincing, which would perhaps have gone some way to explaining how Octavius managed to convince Decimus that he was fighting disinterestedly for the Republic when they joined forces against Antonius at Mutina, after Caesar was assassinated. Before the main party reached Rome, Octavius left to proceed more quickly to the city. He was met by a young man claiming to be the grandson of Marius, who wanted to persuade Caesar to recognise his family connections. The man was an impostor, but he had collected a large following, influential and popular, and potentially riotous. He even approached Cicero to defend him on some charge or other, but Cicero had refused to be drawn into close association with him, even though he seems at first to have believed in the Marian connections of the pretender. In fact many people had been taken in by him, so presumably the new Marius was quite plausible. Octavius avoided a potentially embarrassing situation, neither recognising the claims of the false heir, nor receiving him, until Julius Ceasar as both head of the family, and more importantly, head of state, should return and pronounce judgement on the matter. Cautious as always, he kept all avenues open; he did not reject Marius out of hand, thereby inflaming the populace who supported him, and perhaps creating irretrievable difficulties for himself if the man should prove to be genuine and to gain favour with Caesar; nor did he accept him, which would have offended the nobility and probably alienated Caesar. It would have been quite easy for an eighteen-year-old to succumb to external pressure, and to have blundered unwittingly into a compromising situation, but Octavius' cautious reserve was a prudent survival technique and the product of an astute mind, one which perhaps weighed the evidence more deeply and thought further ahead than many others.
Before he entered the city, Caesar went to one of his estates, at Labici, south-east of Rome. There he wrote his will, according to Suetonius, in September 45. He left a quarter of his estate to his male relatives Lucius Pinarius and Quintus Pedius, and the other three-quarters to Octavius, whom he adopted in a clause appended to the will. Once written, the will would be lodged in the temple of the Vestals, and none of the contents would be revealed until after Caesar's assassination in March 44. It cannot be known whether Octavius had any knowledge of what was contained in it, and so his degree of surprise, when he found himself heir to Caesar in more senses than the purely financial, can only be guessed. In September 45, no one could have predicted that Caesar's ascendancy would be over in less than six months, and most especially no one could have imagined that the resultant vacancy would one day be filled by a taciturn youth who was constantly ailing.
At the end of 45 the Senate could not do enough to honour Caesar. There were religious ceremonies, games and races, and the dedication of yet more statues in his name. A new temple was to be built to Libertas, and a new palace was to be erected on the Quirinal Hill for the use of the Dictator. The month Quinctilis was to be renamed July to commemorate him. He was permitted to wear triumphal clothing on official occasions, and a laurel wreath at all times. Such exaltation was gratifying enough, and served to underline Caesar's supremacy, but honours by themselves would have been quite empty and almost meaningless without the real powers that were willingly voted to him. He was to be Dictator for ten years and consul for the same period. He was granted the use of Imperator as a hereditary name, and held yet another triumph, though not without opposition from the tribune Pontius Aquila, who pointedly remained seated instead of rising to greet him as everyone else did. Caesar was annoyed, but confined himself to irritable sarcasms, and otherwise left Aquila alone. He had harped upon the theme of tribunician sacrosanctity more than once, and had never been ashamed to use his defence of it to support his actions. More pertinently, tribunician sacrosanctity had been granted to Caesar himself, so it would have been more than just ironic if he had indulged himself in vindictive punishment of a tribune simply for opposing him. In any case he had no need for such demonstrations of power. He had complete control of the finances and the armies and could appoint whoever he desired to any of the magistracies, though he prudently declined to appoint all of them. Under this heading, a tidy compromise was reached by a law of the tribune Lucius Antonius, granting Caesar the right to recommend half of the candidates for all the magistracies except the consulship, but even that office was almost entirely under his control, as demonstrated by the fact that the consuls of 44 were to be Caesar and Marcus Antonius. In practice this apparent reluctance to appoint all the magistrates was short-lived. Since it was rapidly becoming clear that for the security of Roman interests, or as sceptics have suggested, to provide an excuse for Caesar to extract himself from an impossible, self-generated situation, more wars would have to be fought against the Dacians and the Parthians, and since the command was readily voted to him, Caesar also accepted the right to appoint all magistrates for the next three years, by which time it was thought that the wars should have been satisfactorily concluded. Thus Rome would be in the hands of Caesar's henchmen until his return, and through them he could continue to direct Roman affairs.
With regard to Octavius, Caesar began to promote him by modest stages. By a law of the tribune Lucius Cassius, Caesar was authorised to create new patricians, and among others he elevated Octavius. At some time towards the end of 45, he sent him to Apollonia on the coast of Macedonia to complete his education, along with a few friends, such as Agrippa, Maecenas and Salvidienus Rufus. He took with him Apollodorus of Pergamum as one of his teachers; this was the man who taught him how to exercise patience and self-control. The choice of the region and the city of Apollonia cannot have been made purely for its opportunities for erudition; had that been the sole aim, then surely Athens would have been the first choice. It was not merely coincidental that five legions were stationed in Macedonia, and according to Appian, many of the officers were regular guests of Octavius, who took part in training the troops. Military experience was just as important as academic pursuits, and up to now Octavius had received little in the way of military knowledge. As part of his preparations for the Dacian campaign, Caesar designated Octavius magister equitum in place of Lepidus. This appointment, apparently never actually taken up, has been the subject of debate by various authors who have doubted that such a responsible office could have been given to someone so young and inexperienced as Octavius. Appian says that the office was an annual one that Caesar passed around among his friends, which creates the false impression that the office was one of little importance and could be given to almost anyone. In that case, there should be no problem about allowing Octavius to fill the role, but Appian's statement is not to be taken at face value since there was considerable importance attached to the appointment. Marcus Antonius had been magister equitum when he quelled the riots in Rome, some said too brutally. Lepidus, who preceded Octavius as holder of the office, was not an insignificant figure. Attempts have been made to explain away the appointment of Octavius on dubious linguistic grounds. In Greek, the terms for magister equitum and praefectus urbi are easily confused, so it can be argued that there must have been some misunderstanding between the appointment of the sixteen-year-old Octavius as city prefect during the celebrations of the Feriae Latinae, and his later and possibly erroneous des
Posted April 9, 2007
Very good book on Augustus' acheivments and the succession problem of Tiberius. Puts Augustus more as a person who had to adapt to the changes around him rather than a brilliant man who just happened to create the foundation of the roman empire. All round very good, but not too political. More of a social-militaristic book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.