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Augustus capite velato
© AERIA (Used by permission)

Augustus (* September 23, 63 BC[1] in Rome[2] as Gaius Octavius; † August 19, AD 14 in Nola near Naples) was the first and one of the most important Roman emperors.

The grandnephew, adopted son and heir to Gaius Iulius Caesar won the struggles for power that followed Caesar's murder in 44 BC. From 31 BC Augustus alone ruled the Roman empire after ending a century of civil war. Under the obscuring slogan restitutio rei publicae ("reinstatement of the Republic") he in fact conducted the institution of autocratic monarchy in the form of the Roman principate, which he anchored in the imperial Julio-Claudian dynasty for generations to come. Nevertheless he gave Rome an era of inner peace and sustainable prosperity, which was glorified as the Pax Augusta that spawned political and religious reverberations until modern times, e.g. in Catholic state concepts and 20th century politics of tyrants like Benito Mussolini.

Names and titles of the first Caesar Augustus

Divi filius after Actium[3]
© AERIA (Used by permission)

The birth name of the later Augustus was Gaius Octavius. According to Suetonius he bore the highly questionable cognomen Thurinus.[4] Cassius Dio is the only classical author to mention Octavius' obscure and rather unfamiliar cognomen Kaipias.[5] After the testamentary adoption by Caesar, Octavius officially accepted the new name Gaius Iulius Caesar,[6] whereas the customary supplemental name indicating an adoption, which would in this case have been Octavianus, was never carried by Caesar's adoptive son.[7] Nevertheless modern scholarly publications mostly use the historically incorrect name Octavian for the time of his rise to political power in order to differentiate between the older and the younger Gaius Iulius Caesar. Almost all ancient historians simply called him "Caesar", "the young Caesar"[8] or seldomly "the great Caesar".[9] At the latest since the official apotheosis of Iulius Caesar in 42 BC his new name is given as Gaius Iulius Divi filius Caesar.[10] After the adoption of the praenomen Imperator (possibly 38 BC, at the latest 31 BC) he used Caesar instead of the gentilician name Iulius. The beginning of his autocracy is therefore connected to the name Imperator Caesar Divi filius.[11]

On January 16, 27 BC the Roman Senate conferred the honorary name Augustus on the new ruler. The institution of the new principate was accompanied by the princeps' new and final lifetime name Imperator Caesar Divi filius Augustus.[12] Together with the name Caesar the name Augustus became an integral part of the Roman imperial titulature, beginning with the reign of his successor Tiberius.[13] At the time of his death his complete name including all titles was: Imperator Caesar Divi filius Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, Consul XIII, Imperator XXI, Tribuniciae potestatis XXXVII, Pater patriae, translated: "Imperator Caesar Divi filius[14] Augustus, Chief Highpriest, 13 times Consul, 21 times Commander,[15] 37 times holder of the Tribunate, Father of the Fatherland". After his consecration in AD 14 his official name was changed to Divus Augustus Divi filius, which remained his god name until late Antiquity.[16]


to be added later

Early life

to be added later


  1. Capricornus
    © Eric Kondratieff (Used by permission)
    Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 5: September 22 in the pre-Julian calendar; IX Kal. Oct. 691 a.u.c. shortly before sunrise (paulo ante solis exortum). In the Roman fasti Augustus' birthday was celebrated on the 23rd and 24th of September, combined with the ludi Augustales that were continued until late antiquity as the festival in honor of Divus Augustus. According to modern astronomical calculations Augustus was born in the sign of Libra, because in 63 BC the old Roman calendar appears to have been in close agreement with the later Julian calendar. Augustus nevertheless emphasized his birth in the sign of Capricornus (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 94.12). This is to be regarded as an allusion to his "second birth" as C. Iulius Divi filius Caesar (see below), which was theopolitically defined by the appearance of the Julian star in conjunction with Capricornus that occupied the Ascendant and horoscoped during comet rise on July 23, 44 BC (John T. Ramsey & A. Lewis Licht, The Comet of 44 B.C. and Caesar's Funeral Games, Atlanta 1996; see also the Capricorn with the Julian star in the background on the disk from the gemma Augustea). If his birthday was additionally celebrated in the times of Capricorn after the 90-days adjustment due to the Julian reform of the calendar, is unknown but possible, since Capricorn remained a constant, although not prominent element of the Augustan propaganda, especially on coins and gems. Additional evidence can be found in the worship of Augustus as a sun god, illustrated e.g. by the astral symbolism of the cult of Divus Iulius since the appearance of the sidus Iulium, to which the Augustan nimbus is attributed (cp. also Octavian in Publius Virgilius Maro, Aeneid 8675 ff.), or by the solarium Augusti, and furthermore by the general identification of Augustus as Sol, who later as Sol Invictus was closely connected with the Roman emperors and whose festive day was December 25. (Cp. also some statues from the cult of Divus Iulius with the inscription Deo Invicto, which was adopted as Deo Soli Invicto Imperatori for the cult of Sol Invictus.) Therefore the period of December 23 to 26 would have to be assumed for the festivities of his astrological day of rebirth. This alternative birthday—as strong as this idea might have been with the Roman people—was however never official, and Augustus himself only privately took pleasure in the view that the comet "had come into being for him and that he was coming into being in it" (Gaius Plinius Secundus, Natural History 2.93–94).
  2. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 5.1: Natus est Augustus […] regione Palati ad Capita Bubula, ubi nunc sacrarium habet, aliquanto post quam excessit constitutum. ("Augustus was born […] in the street called Capita Bubula [literally either "at the heads of the oxen" or "on the fodder of the oxen"] in the Palatine quarter, where he now has a shrine, built shortly after his death.") The often purported birth in Velitrae is an ancient Roman folk legend (see below).
  3. This anything but flattering depiction of Imperator Caesar Divi filius is still influenced by the realistic aesthetics of the late Roman Republic, because the original portrait has been dated to the first years of Caesar's heir in Roman politics, before he could gain seminal influence on Roman imperial aesthetics. This bust was probably sculpted in 30 BC. It is therefore called the Actium-, the Octavian- or the Alcudia-type.
  4. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 7.1. Suetonius believes that the inscription on a statuette, which he gave to emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus as a gift, referred to the young Gaius Octavius. Apart from the fact that busts of Gaius or Lucius Caesar could have easily been mistaken for a depiction of a youthful Augustus and that the inscription's "near-illegibility from age" also suggests a deterioration of the statuette itself, Suetonius himself is unsure about the origin of the alleged cognomen: It would either refer to the origin of Augustus' family from Thurii, which is unclear, since the Augustan branch of the Octavii were from Velitrae or Rome and (partially) from Africa, whereas only some of Octavius' ancestral relatives had settled in Thurii and other places like Aricia. Alternatively the name could have been connected to a victory of Octavius' father regione Thurina (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 3), which is improbable, because the relevant inscription (CIL 6.41023) doesn't mention any such victory (cf. F. X. Ryan, "The Quaestorship and Aedileship of C. Octavius", in: Rheinisches Museum 139, 1996, pp. 251–253). The cognomen Thurinus—whether preexisting or not—would therefore at the most have been subject to Octavian propaganda that attempted to ennoble the undistinguished past of the Octavii. That this fabrication would have been established early on is supported by the fact that Marcus Antonius used the cognomen Thurinus as a sign of his contempt for Caesar's heir. According to Suetonius, Thurinus in the mockery by Antonius (and others) refers to the Octavii being not competent military leaders with important victories but a plebeian family of money-changers, ointment-traders, perfumers, rope-makers and bakers (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, Divus Augustus 2 & 4).
  5. Ὀκτάουιος Καιπίας (Cassius Dio, Roman History 45.1.1); various interpretations were attempted, e.g. an erroneous Latin-to-Greek transmission of Copiae—Latin for Thurii. F. X. Ryan ("Kaipias. Ein Beinahme für Augustus", in: Studia humaniora Tartuensia VI 2, 2005) sees Kaipias as an allusion to Capricornus, the zodiac sign of Augustus' rebirth (see above). It is however unclear why Cassius Dio would have chosen to project the later Augustan Capricorn astrology, which was directly connected to the sidus Iulium in 44 BC and to Caesar's heir becoming the son of Divus Iulius in 42 BC, onto Augustus' former name that had only been valid until his adoption. Since other sources are missing, this riddle will probably never be solved.
  6. Complete name including filiation: Gaius Iulius C. f. Caesar, with C. f. for Gai filius ("Son of Gaius"). (Cp. also Appian's representation: "Caesar, Caesar's son"; Civil Wars 3.11.38.) Marcus Tullius Cicero (Letters to Atticus 14.12) reports that Gaius Octavius already called himself Caesar before his public acceptance of the adoption, which is confirmed by Dio (Roman History 45.3). An intermediate form Octavius Caesar is known from Appianus, Civil Wars 4.8.31 ff. for the year 43 BC, but is commonly seen as historically irrelevant, sometimes also as a fabrication. In addition he is called C•CAESAR•IMP(erator) on a Roman coin (Jochen Bleicken, Augustus. Eine Biographie, Berlin 1998, p.47). The dating to 43 BC by Bleicken is possible due to the first imperatorial acclamation for the young Caesar after the battle of Mutina in spring of 43 BC. (This is not to be confused with the later use of Imperator as his praenomen.) Accordingly Cicero uses the following names for the young Caesar in his speeches (Philippics 3–14; December 20, 44 BC until April 21, 43 BC): Caesar, C. Caesar, C. Caesar Gai filius pontifex pro praetore and C. Caesar pro praetore imperator.
  7. For this reason the supplementary name Octavianus is often bracketed in scholarly publications: C. Iulius C. f. Caesar (Octavianus). (Cp. also Ronald Syme, The Roman Revolution, 1933, pp. 307 ff. & 322 ff.; Hubert Cancik, "Christus Imperator", in: Heinrich von Stietencron: Der Name Gottes, 1975, p. 113 f.) Cassius Dio (Roman History 46 & 47.4–7: Gaius Iulius Caesar Octavianus) and Publius Cornelius Tacitus (Annals 13.6: Caesar Octavianus) use their compendial-scientific nomenclature as a technical requisite for historiographical accuracy between 44 and 42 BC, but in doing so antedate the spuriously maintained tradition of modern historiography (see below). In some of his earlier letters Cicero also uses the formally correct name Caesar Octavianus (Marcus Tullius Cicero, "Letters to his friends" 12.23.2 & 25.4), likewise the Caesarian Gaius Asinius Pollio in his letter from Spain to Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Letters to his friends 10.33.3 f.) The Gai filius himself however never adhered to the Roman naming principles, which all historians except Cassius Dio and Tacitus as well as the numerous inscriptions and numismatical findings prove. His new Caesarian followers—e.g. Gaius Matius (in Marcus Tullius Cicero, Letters to his friends 11.28.6; 44 BC)—all consistently call him Caesar, even before Gaius Octavius reached Rome to accept the adoption. Cicero also adopted the prevalent position concerning the young Caesar's name after he managed to convince a senatorial majority to establish a political alliance with Caesar's heir. It is however possible that the infrequently found cognomen Octavianus originally stemmed from the counter-propaganda of Marcus Antonius, analogous to Antonius' taunting use of the cognomen Thurinus (see above). In any case it is certain that the outer regions of the Roman world followed the unusual name politics only later, avoiding the name Octavianus, because their geographical distance from urban Rome always also implied a time delay, until new political currents could reach the colonies. (Cp. also Walter Schmitthenner, Oktavian und das Testament Cäsars, München 1973; for general information on the names given to Caesar's heir by ancient writers see: Catherine Rubincam, "The nomenclature of Julius Caesar and the later Augustus in the Triumviral period", in: Historia 41, 1992, pp. 88–103.)
  8. Ὁ νέος Καῖσαρ and Καῖσαρ ὁ νέος, whereas the original Latin terms were iuvenis ("young man") and puer ("child"); Nicolaus Damascenus, Bίος Καῖσαρος (Vita Caesaris; in most cases erroneously translated as Life of Augustus) 14: πρεσβύτερος for the "old Caesar". Cf. also Nicolaus Damascenus, Vita Caesaris 14, 16, 17, 32, 36, 37, 51 & 107; Mestrius Plutarchus Brutus 27.1, Cicero 43.6 & 44.1; Mestrius Plutarchus, Antonius 16.1 ; Appianus, Civil Wars 3.21, 32 & 33.
  9. Nicolaus Damascenus, Vita Caesaris 107: μεγάλος.
  10. Seldomly: Gaius Iulius Divi Iuli(i) filius Caesar. The historical tradition by Cassius Dio (Roman History 47.18.3) is in this case also questionable. Ronald Syme ("Imperator Caesar. A study in nomenclature", in: Historia 7, 1958, pp. 172–188) still follows Dio's chronology, which was refuted by Andreas Alföldi ("Der Einmarsch Octavians in Rom, August 43 v. Chr.", in: Hermes 86, 1958, pp. 408–496; supported by Konrad Kraft, 1953), who dates the first coins with the inscriptions DIVI IVLI•F• and DIVI•F• to the year 43 BC, after the young Caesar had assumed control over the Capitoline minting institution. This view is supported by the ancient writers Nicolaus Damascenus (FGrHist 18.55) and Appianus (Civil Wars 3.11.38), who show that Caesar's heir often tended toward elevating his political actions by means of religious sanctification.
  11. Cp. Ronald Syme, "Imperator Caesar. A study in nomenclature", in: Historia 7, 1958 et al.
  12. Cp. Ronald Syme, "Imperator Caesar. A study in nomenclature", in: Historia 7, 1958 et al.; several names were proposed by the Senate, among them Old Romulus. The title Augustus was primarily chosen for its closeness to the concept of progeny, which was known for gods and holy places. His new honorary name thereby also conformed to the fact that he was seen as God's begotten son and that he would himself one day ascend and become a deity alongside his divine father.
  13. Caesar as part of the imperial titulature, especially as the name of the first Augustus, carefully evokes the personal and historical dimension without overemphasizing the social and political position. Augustus (engl.: "reverenced", "venerable", "sacred", "dignified", "majestic" etc.)—like the title pater patriae (or the neuter parens patriae)—points at the mythical foundation of Rome (see Quirinus and Romulus respectively). The direct translation and cognate of Augustus for the Greek regions of the empire was σεβαστός (Sebastós).
  14. The name Divi filius ("Son of God") was adopted by all emperors, who were sons of a divus, e.g. Tiberius as Divi Augusti filius or Titus as Divi Vespasiani filius. For Augustus as son of the first Divus (Divus Iulius) this name is attested for the whole empire, especially for the hellenistic east (as the anarthrous θεοῦ ὑιός), where it also found its way into the Gospels, generally as ὁ ὑιός τοῦ θεοῦ in the New Testament (passim) and in several other variants, among them the genuinely imperial θεοῦ ὑιός (Mt. 4:33, 27:43 & 27:54) as well as the marginally transposed ὑιός θεοῦ, e.g. in the confession of the centurion (Mk. 15:39) or the proclamation of the angel (Lk. 1:35). The dependency of the Christ's names and titles on the Roman imperial cult are considered as certain. (Cp. e.g. the publications in Biblica by Kim (1998), Johnson (2000) and Mowery (2002).) Other titles, appellations and terms of the deified emperors attested for Augustus or the Divus Iulius, which were adopted in the New Testament, are i.a. θεῖος ("divine", "imperatorial") and θειότης ("divineness", "imperial majesty"), κύριος ("Lord") and κυριακός ("belonging to the Lord")—hereunder also the Sebaste, the "Augustus Day", which was adopted as the "Lord's Day" (= Sunday; see above: Augustus as sun god)—, the combined κύριος καὶ θεóς ("Lord and God"), βασιλεὑς ("king"; Greek for imperator), σωτήρ ("Redeemer"), εὐαγγέλιoν ("good news"; including the so-called "evangelical festive days"), ὰρχιερεύς [μέγιστος] (Greek for pontifex [maximus]), ὲπιφάνεια ("Epiphany [of the Lord]"), παρουσία (Greek for adventus, "Coming of the Savior") as well as the title of the imperial letters for the New-Testamentarian epistles (θεῖα γράμματα, engl.: "divine writings") and the "imperial genitive case" Καίσαρος (from Latin Caesaris) as Χριστοῦ ("of Christ", "belonging to Christ", "of Christ's own"). Cp. Adolf Deissmann: Licht vom Osten, Tübingen 1922 et al. For the early Christian assimilation of Caesarian-Augustan military and political titles in the Christ's titulature like imperator, princeps, Caesar, consul, victor, summus sacerdos etc., e.g. in the Vulgata and the Patristic writings, see: Hubert Cancik, "Christus Imperator", in: Heinrich von Stietencron: Der Name Gottes, 1975, pp. 112–130.
  15. The added number XXI alludes to the victories that the generals of Augustus achieved under his regime. Therefore Imperator is not an official title but a true praenomen and a "name of power" (Syme and Béranger, quoted in: Hubert Cancik, "Christus Imperator", in: Heinrich von Stietencron: Der Name Gottes, 1975).
  16. Short form: Divus Augustus; some temples and altars in municipal Rome and the provinces already point at the worship of Augustus as god during his lifetime—independent of the cult of his divine guardian spirit (genius Augusti)—, however not as Divus Augustus, which is only attested for his final years and posthumously, but as Divi filius, possibly also mistakenly under the god name of his divine father Divus Iulius (Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and Roman Religion, Oxford 2002).