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Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus, son of Caius Octavius and Atia (Julius Caesar's niece), was born in 63 B.C. He was the first and greatest of the Roman emperors, in his way perhaps fully as great as his adoptive father, Julius Caesar. The Octavian family came originally from Velitrae, in the country of the Volsci; and the branch to which Augustus belonged was rich and honorable. His father had risen to the rank of senator and praetor, but died in the prime of life, when Augustus was only four years old. Augustus was carefully educated in Rome under the guardianship of his mother and his step-father; and his talents recommended him to his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, who adopted him as his son and heir. At the time of Caesar's assassination (44 B.C.), Augustus was a student under the celebrated orator Apollodorus, at Apollonia in Illyricum, whither, however, he had been sent chiefly to gain practical instruction in military affairs. He returned to Italy, and now first learning that he was his uncle's heir, assumed the name of Julius Caesar Octavianus. The soldiers at Brundusium saluted him as Caesar, but he declined their offers, and entered Rome almost alone. The city was at this time divided between the republicans and the friends of Mark Antony, but the latter, by adroit manoeuvres, had gained the ascendency, and enjoyed almost absolute power. At first, Augustus was haughtily treated by Antony, who refused to surrender Caesar's property; but after some fighting, in which Antony was worsted and forced to flee across the Alps, Augustus, who had made himself a favorite with the people and the army, obtained the consulship and carried out Caesar's will. He found an able advocate in Cicero, who at first had regarded him with contempt.
Augustus Caesar and Cleopatra.
His subsequent measures were mild and prudent. To insure popular favor, he abolished the laws of the triumvirate, and reformed many abuses. Hitherto, since Caesar's death, he had been named Octavian; but now the title of Augustus ("sacred" or "consecrated") was conferred on him. In his eleventh consulship (23 B.C.), the tribunician power was granted him for life by the senate. Republican names and forms still remained, but they were mere shadows; and Augustus, in all but name, was absolute monarch. In 21 B.C., on the death of Lepidus, he had the high title of Pontifex Maximus bestowed on him. The nation surrendered to him all the power and honor that it had to give.
After a course of victories in Asia, Spain, Pannonia, Dalmatia, Gaul, etc., Augustus (9 B.C.) suffered the one crushing defeat of his long rule, in the person of Quintilius Varus, whose army was annihilated by the Germans under Hermann. The loss so afflicted Augustus that for some time he allowed his beard and hair to grow, as a sign of deep mourning, and often exclaimed, "O Varus, Varus, give me back my legions!" Thenceforth he confined himself to plans of domestic improvements and reform, and so beautified Rome that it was said, "Augustus found the city built of brick, and left it built of marble." He also built cities in several parts of the empire; and altars were raised by the grateful people to commemorate his beneficence; while by a decree of the senate the name Augustus was given to the month Sextilis.
Though thus surrounded with honor and prosperity, Augustus was not free from domestic trouble. The abandoned conduct of his daughter Julia was the cause of sore vexation to him. He had no son, and his nephew Marcellus, and Caius and Lucius, his daughter's sons, whom he had appointed as his successors and heirs, as well as his favorite stepson, Drusus, all died early; while his stepson, Tiberius, was an unamiable character whom he could not love. Age, sorrow, and failing health warned him to seek repose; and, to recruit his strength, he undertook a journey to Campania; but his infirmity increased, and he died at Nola (14 A.D.), 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: "Did I play my part well? If so, applaud me!" Augustus had consummate tact and address as a ruler and politician, and 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 himself. He encouraged agriculture, patronized the arts and literature, and was himself an author; though only a few fragments of his writings have been preserved. Horace, Virgil, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, and Livy--greatest of Latin poets and scholars--belonged to the Augustan Age, a name since applied in France to the reign of Louis XIV., in England to that of Queen Anne.
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