Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars
Book II: Augustus
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
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- Book Two: Augustus (later deified)
- Book Two: I The Octavii
- Book Two: II His Paternal Ancestors
- Book Two: III His Father
- Book Two: IV His Maternal Ancestors
- Book Two: V His Birth
- Book Two: VI His Nursery
- Book Two: VII His Various Names
- Book Two: VIII A Brief Summary of His Life
- Book Two: IX His Involvement in Civil War
- Book Two: X Mutina
- Book Two: XI Claims Against Him of Treachery
- Book Two: XII His Desertion of the Senatorial Party
- Book Two: XIII Philippi
- Book Two: XIV Perusia
- Book Two: XV The Aftermath of Perusia
- Book Two: XVI Sicily
- Book Two: XVII His Victory over Antony and Cleopatra
- Book Two: XVIII The Tomb of Alexander the Great
- Book Two: XIX Rebellions and Conspiracies
- Book Two: XX His Imperial Campaigning
- Book Two: XXI His Consolidation of Empire
- Book Two: XXII Peace and Triumphs
- Book Two: XXIII The Defeats of Lollius and Varus
- Book Two: XXIV His Use of Discipline
- Book Two: XXV His Soldiers
- Book Two: XXVI His Consulships
- Book Two: XXVII Triumvir, Tribune, Censor
- Book Two: XXVIII Sole Ruler
- Book Two: XXIX Public Works
- Book Two: XXX Civic Improvements
- Book Two: XXXI Religious Reforms and Memorials
- Book Two: XXXII Security and Legal Reforms
- Book Two: XXXIII His Administration of Justice
- Book Two: XXXIV Revision of the Laws
- Book Two: XXXV Reform of the Senate
- Book Two: XXXVI Reform of the Administration
- Book Two: XXXVII Extensions to Public Office
- Book Two: XXXVIII Maintenance of Military Capability
- Book Two: XXXIX Examination of the Knights
- Book Two: XL Electoral and Citizenship Reform
- Book Two: XLI His Financial Generosity
- Book Two: XLII His Disregard for Popularity
- Book Two: XLIII His Public Entertainments
- Book Two: XLIV His Regulation of Spectators
- Book Two: XLV His Presence at the Games
- Book Two: XLVI His Encouragement of Population Increase
- Book Two: XLVII His Administration of the Provinces
- Book Two: XLVIII His Control of Defeated Kingdoms
- Book Two: XLIX His Military Dispositions
- Book Two: L His Personal Seal
- Book Two: LI His Clemency and Moderation
- Book Two: LII His Refusal of Honours
- Book Two: LIII His Public Manner
- Book Two: LIV His Tolerance of Free-Speech
- Book Two: LV His Tolerance of Libel
- Book Two: LVI His Respect for Established Law and Custom
- Book Two: LVII Public Marks of Affection
- Book Two: LVIII Father of the Country
- Book Two: LIX Offerings and Commemorations
- Book Two: LX Tributes from the Kingdoms
- Book Two: LXI Domestic and Private Life: His Mother and Sister
- Book Two: LXII His Marriages
- Book Two: LXIII His Daughter Julia
- Book Two: LXIV His Grandchildren
- Book Two: LXV Deaths and Scandal
- Book Two: LXVI His Friendships
- Book Two: LXVII His Slaves and Freedmen
- Book Two: LXVIII Accusations of Homosexuality and Effeminacy
- Book Two: LXIX His Adulteries
- Book Two: LXX His Other Vices
- Book Two: LXXI His Reputation
- Book Two: LXXII His Moderate Lifestyle
- Book Two: LXXIII His Simple Clothes and Furnishings
- Book Two: LXXIV His Dinner Parties
- Book Two: LXXV His Sense of Humour
- Book Two: LXXVI His Food
- Book Two: LXXVII His Drink
- Book Two: LXXVIII His Sleeping Habits
- Book Two: LXXIX His Appearance
- Book Two: LXXX His Physical Blemishes and Weaknesses
- Book Two: LXXXI His Major Illnesses
- Book Two: LXXXII His Care of His Health
- Book Two: LXXXIII His Exercise and Diversions
- Book Two: LXXXIV His Oratory
- Book Two: LXXXV His Writings
- Book Two: LXXXVI His Style of Speech
- Book Two: LXXXVII His Favourite Words and Phrases
- Book Two: LXXXVIII His Orthography and Cipher Key
- Book Two: LXXXIX His Interest in Literature
- Book Two: XC His Superstition Regarding Lightning
- Book Two: XCI His Attitude to Dreams
- Book Two: XCII His Regard for Certain Omens
- Book Two: XCIII His Respect for Certain Foreign Religions
- Book Two: XCIV Omens of Destiny
- Book Two: XCV Omens of Imminent Power
- Book Two: XCVI Omens of Victory in War
- Book Two: XCVII Omens of Death
- Book Two: XCVIII His Last Days
- Book Two: XCIX His Death
- Book Two: C His Funeral
- Book Two: CI His Will
Book Two: Augustus (later deified)
Book Two: I The Octavii
By all accounts, the Octavii, of ancient Velitrae (Velletri) were a distinguished family. Not only was there an Octavian Street in the busiest part of town, but there was also an altar consecrated to an Octavius who led the troops in a war with a neighbouring city. News of an enemy attack reaching him as he was sacrificing to Mars, he snatched the innards from the fire, offered them half-burned, then set out to win the battle. The city records contained a decree that all future offerings should be made in that manner, and the sacrificial carcase granted to the Octavii.
Book Two: II His Paternal Ancestors
The Octavii, among other plebeian families, were first admitted to the Senate by King Tarquinius Priscus, and later enrolled among the patricians by Servius Tullius, though they returned to the ranks of the plebeians in the course of time, until Julius Caesar made them patricians again after a long interval.
Gaius Rufus was the first of the family to be elected to the magistracy by popular vote, being made a quaestor. Separate branches of the family stemmed from his two sons Gnaeus and Gaius, the descendants of Gnaeus holding highest office, while Gaius and his descendants, by choice or accident, remained members of the equestrian order until Augustus’ father became a Senator.
Augustus’ great-grandfather, Gaius, fought as a military tribune under Aemilius Papus (in 205BC), serving in Sicily during the Second Punic War, while his grandfather, with a substantial income, was content with municipal office, and lived to a ripe old age.
That is what others claim. Augustus himself, in his Memoirs, simply says that he came of an old and wealthy equestrian family, his own father being the first member of the family to enter the Senate. Mark Antony poked fun at the great-grandfather, claiming that he was merely a freedman, a rope-maker from the neighbourhood of Thurii, while the grandfather was a money-changer. This is all I have managed to learn of Augustus’ paternal ancestors.
Book Two: III His Father
His father, Gaius Octavius, was born to wealth and was a man of repute, so that it is hard to believe claims that he too was a money-changer, employed to distribute bribes, and perform other services during electioneering in the Campus. Certainly he was raised in affluence, easily achieved high office, and proved effective in that role.
At the end of his praetorship, he was appointed to Macedonia, and on the way to his province successfully executed a special commission, entrusted to him by the Senate, by eliminating a group of outlawed slaves, from the armies of Spartacus and Catiline, who held the countryside around Thurii.
As Governor of Macedonia, he was as just as he was brave. As well as routing the Bessi with other Thracian tribes in a major battle, his dealings with allies was so effective that Cicero, in extant letters to his brother Quintus, who was at that time a less than successful propraetor of Asia, reproaches his brother and urges him to imitate his neighbour Octavius in winning over his allies.
Book Two: IV His Maternal Ancestors
Augustus’ father died suddenly, while returning from Macedonia, and was thus prevented by death alone from standing as a candidate for the consulship. He was survived by his three children, Octavia the Elder, who was his daughter by Ancharia; and Octavia the Younger and Augustus, his children by Atia.
Atia was the daughter of Marcus Atius Balbus and Julius Caesar’s sister Julia. A native of Aricia, his father’s home town, Balbus’ ancestral halls boasted images of the many Senators it had provided, while he was closely related to Pompey through his mother. After holding office as praetor, he was one of the Commission of Twenty, charged with distributing land in Campania to the public, under the Julian Law.
Mark Antony it was again, who tried to belittle Augustus’ maternal ancestors, claiming the great-grandfather was born in Africa, and kept a perfumery and then a bakery in Aricia. Cassius of Parma, in a letter, likewise taunts Augustus with being the grandson of a baker and a money-changer: ‘The dough your mother made you of came from a common bakery in Aricia, and was kneaded into shape by the cash-soiled hands of a money-changer from Nerulum.’
Book Two: V His Birth
Augustus was born just before sunrise on the ninth day before the Kalends of October (September 23rd, 63BC), in the year when Cicero and Gaius Antonius were consuls, at Ox-Heads in the Palatine quarter, where a shrine was built shortly after he died. The location was revealed, as Senate records show, by a young patrician, Gaius Laetorius, who while pleading for a lesser punishment for adultery, on the grounds of his youth and rank, further recommended himself to the Senators as ‘the owner and guardian, as it were, of the first place that the god Augustus touched at his birth.’ He therefore also begged for pardon in the name of his own special god, and it was subsequently decreed that the designated area of his house be consecrated.
Book Two: VI His Nursery
A small room, like a pantry, in his grandfather’s country house near Velitrae (Velletri), is to this day claimed as Augustus’ nursery, while local people are convinced he was also born there. No one dares enter the room except for some essential task, and even then only after a ritual of purification, since there is a long-standing belief that anyone entering casually will be exposed to something monstrous and terrifying. This was recently proven to be true, when a new owner of the villa, deliberately or from ignorance, slept there. Later that night, a mysterious force suddenly hurled him from bed, and he was found lying half-dead by the door, still wrapped in the sheets.
Book Two: VII His Various Names
As a child he was surnamed Thurinus, either after his ancestral home, Thurii, or because his father Octavius defeated the outlawed slaves nearby, shortly after Augustus’ birth. I can submit certain evidence of the fact, since I once owned a bronze statuette of him as a boy, with that name added in barely legible rusted iron letters. I gave this to my Emperor, Hadrian, who placed it in his bedroom among the Household-gods.
Moreover Mark Antony in his letters often calls him by the name Thurinus, by way of insult, though Augustus merely commented that he was surprised to find his actual former name used in that manner.
Later he adopted the name Gaius Caesar to comply with his great-uncle Julius Caesar’s will; while the title Augustus was granted him after Munatius Plancus introduced a Senate motion to that effect. Though the opinion was expressed that he should take the name Romulus, as a second founder of the city, Plancus carried the day, arguing that Augustus was a more original and honourable title, because sacred sites and anything consecrated by the augurs are called augusta. The custom is derived either from the ‘increase’, auctus, in their holiness, or from the familiar phrase avium gestus gustusve, ‘the posture and pecking of birds’ which this line from Ennius supports:
‘When with august augury illustrious Rome was born.’
Book Two: VIII A Brief Summary of His Life
He lost his father at the age of five (58BC). At twelve he delivered a funeral oration in honour of his grandmother Julia, Julius Caesar’s sister (51BC). At sixteen, having assumed the toga, he was decorated by Caesar during the African triumph (46BC) even though he had been too young to fight. When Caesar went to conquer Pompey’s sons in Spain (in 46BC), Augustus followed, despite still being weak from severe illness, and despite being shipwrecked on the way, with a minimal escort, over roads menaced by the enemy, so endearing himself greatly to Caesar, who quickly formed a high opinion of Augustus’ character, beyond merely his energetic pursuit of the journey.
After recovering the Spanish provinces, Caesar planned an expedition against the Dacians, to be followed by an attack on Parthia, and sent Augustus ahead (in 45BC) to Apollonia in Illyria, where he spent his time studying. When news came of Caesar’s assassination (in 44BC), and that the will named him as the main heir, Augustus considered seeking protection from the legions quartered there. However he decided it would be rash and premature, and chose to return to Rome, and enter on his inheritance, despite the doubts expressed by his mother, and strong opposition from his stepfather, the ex-consul Marcius Philippus.
Augustus went on to levy armies and rule the State; firstly for a twelve-year period (from 43BC to 30BC), initially with Mark Antony and Lepidus and then (from 33BC) with Antony alone; and later by himself for a further forty-four years (to his death in AD14).
Book Two: IX His Involvement in Civil War
Having given above a brief summary of his life, I will now consider its various phases, though to make the account clearer and more intelligible, I will treat it, as here, by subject matter rather than chronologically.
He fought in five civil conflicts, associated geographically with Mutina (43BC), Philippi (42BC), Perusia (41-40BC), Sicily (36BC) and Actium (31BC). The first and last of these were against Mark Antony, the second against Brutus and Cassius, the third against Lucius Antonius, Mark Antony’s brother, and the fourth against Sextus Pompeius, Pompey’s son.
Book Two: X Mutina
The motivation for all this warfare was that Augustus considered it his duty to avenge Caesar’s death, and enforce his decrees. On returning from Apollonia, he determined to take Brutus and Cassius by surprise, and act against them. When they foresaw the danger and fled, he resorted to law and prosecuted them for murder, in their absence.
Since the officials appointed to oversee Caesar’s victory games were afraid of doing so, he gave the games himself, and in order to wield grater authority for his plans, he announced himself as a candidate for a tribuneship of the people, since an incumbent had died, though in theory unqualified, as he was a patrician and not yet a Senator. When Mark Antony, whom as consul that year he had counted on for support, would not even allow him the common right of transfer except on payment of a heavy bribe, he joined the optimates, the senatorial party, aware that they detested Antony, even more so because he was besieging Decimus Brutus in Mutina, and attempting to drive him from the province to which Caesar had appointed him, an appointment ratified by the Senate.
Acting on sundry advice, he hired assassins to murder Antony. Fearing retaliation when the plot was discovered, he spent all he could muster on raising a force of veterans to protect himself and the State. Raised to the rank of propraetor by the Senate, and placed in command of this army, he was instructed to join Hirtius and Pansa, the two new consuls, in aiding Decimus Brutus. Augustus completed the military task entrusted to him in three months, fighting two major battles. Antony claimed that Augustus took to flight in the first of these, and did not reappear till the following day, lacking his horse and cloak. But all agree that in the following encounter, Augustus not only led his troops, but played the soldier’s part too when, in the midst of the fighting, he shouldered the eagle of the legion, its bearer being wounded, and carried it for some time.
Book Two: XI Claims Against Him of Treachery
Rumours spread that Augustus had engineered the fate of both Hirtius, who died fighting, and Pansa who died after battle from a wound, in order that, with Antony in flight, and the State bereft of its two consuls, he could take control of the victorious armies. The circumstances of Pansa’s death, in particular, were so suspicious, that the physician involved, Glyco, was arrested on a charge of poisoning the wound. Aquilius Niger says further that Augustus himself killed Hirtius, the second consul, in the chaos of battle.
Book Two: XII His Desertion of the Senatorial Party
But in fact, when Augustus heard that Antony had fled to Marcus Lepidus for protection, and that the other generals, supported by their troops, were rallying to their cause, he at once deserted the Senatorial party, giving the excuse that various of them had dismissed him as ‘a mere boy’ while others had openly suggested that he should be ‘dispatched with honour’ to avoid the necessity of rewarding him and his veterans appropriately.
To make his regret at his connection with this former allegiance more evident, he later fined the citizens of Nursia heavily, and then exiled them from their city for failing to pay the fine, simply because they had raised a memorial at public expense to those of their number killed in the engagements at Mutina, with the inscription: ‘They died for Freedom!’
Book Two: XIII Philippi
After forming the Second Triumvirate, with Mark Antony and Lepidus, he put an end to their war with Brutus and Cassius, fighting twice at Philippi, though weakened by illness. He was driven from camp in the first battle, and escaped narrowly by fleeing to Antony’s wing of the army. After his victory in the second, he showed no clemency, sending Brutus’ head to Rome to be flung at the feet of Caesar’s statue, and ranting at the noblest of his prisoners, with no insult lacking.
When one man begged humbly for right of burial, he is said to have replied: ‘The crows will soon settle that!’ And when a father and son pleaded for their lives, it is claimed that he told them to cast lots or play mora (a finger-game) to decide which should be spared. Augustus watched as both perished. The father was executed, having offered to sacrifice his own life for his son’s, whereupon the son committed suicide.
It was because of this that the rest of the captives, including Marcus Favonius, who famously imitated Cato the Younger in everything, saluted Mark Antony respectfully as Imperator, for his victory, as they were led off in chains, but reviled Augustus to his face with the foulest of abuse.
When responsibilities were agreed upon after the victory, Antony undertook to restore peace in the East, while Augustus led the veterans home to Italy, and allocated them municipal land. However he failed to satisfy both veterans and landowners, since the latter complained at being evicted from their farms, while the former claimed they were entitled to more for their services.
Book Two: XIV Perusia
When, (in 41BC), Lucius Antonius, relying on his brother, Mark Antony’s power and his own position as consul, attempted a revolution, Augustus forced him to take refuge in the city of Perusia (Perugia), which he starved into surrender. However Augustus was in considerable personal danger both before and during the campaign.
Prior to the revolt taking place, having ordered the removal of a private soldier who was watching the Games from a seat among the fourteen rows reserved for the equestrian order, Augustus’ enemies spread the rumour that subsequently the man had been tortured and killed, such that Augustus almost lost his life at the hands of an angry mob of soldiers, and only escaped when the missing man suddenly re-appeared, safe and sound.
Again, during the siege, while he was sacrificing near the walls of Perusia (in 40BC), a group of gladiators made a sortie from the city, and almost prevented his retreat.
Book Two: XV The Aftermath of Perusia
When Perusia fell, he took vengeance on a host of prisoners, answering all who begged for pardon or offered excuses, with the same words: ‘You must die!’ It is said that three hundred knights and senators were selected from among them, as a human sacrifice at the altar of the God Julius. They say, also, that his plan in campaigning was to give his hidden enemies, and those bound to him by fear rather than affection, an opportunity to declare their lack of allegiance by joining Lucius Antonius, so that after crushing them he might steal their estates to reward his veterans as promised.
Book Two: XVI Sicily
The Sicilian War (43-36BC) was one of the first campaigns he undertook, but proved subject to numerous interruptions. For example, when storms wrecked his ships twice, in summer too, and he was forced to rebuild the fleet, and again when the Pompeian blockade prevented grain supplies reaching Rome, and under the threat of famine the people forced him to negotiate an armistice.
While rebuilding the entire fleet, and training twenty thousand freed slaves as oarsmen, he created the Julian harbour at Baiae by letting the sea into the Lucrine and Avernan lakes. After exercising his navy there all winter, he defeated Sextus Pompeius in an engagement off the Sicilian Coast between Mylae and Naulochus (36BC), though on the eve of the battle he suddenly fell into a sleep so deep that his staff had to wake him to give the signal for hostilities to commence. It was this that must have occasioned Mark Antony’s taunt that: ‘He was incapable of keeping an eye on the fleet before battle, but lay on his back in a stupor, gazing at the sky, and didn’t rise and show himself until Agrippa had put the enemy ships to flight.’ He was censured for his outburst, too, when the storm wrecked his fleet, shouting: ‘I’ll have victory in spite of Neptune!’, and for his action, in the next Games at the Circus, in ensuring the god’s statue was left out of the sacred procession.
The Sicilian Campaign, it is safe to say, was by far his riskiest. When he had landed his advance troops on Sicily, and was on his way back to the rest of his army on the mainland, the Pompeian admirals, Demochares and Apollophanes, suddenly put in an appearance, and he was fortunate to escape with barely a ship.
Again, as he advanced to Rhegium (Reggio), via Locri, he caught sight of a flotilla of Sextus Pompeius’ biremes coasting towards shore, and mistaking them for his own ships, went down onto the beach, where he narrowly avoided capture. Then, while completing his escape, by narrow footpaths, an attempt was made on his life. He had, some time before, proscribed the father of one of his officers, Aemilius Paulus, one of whose slaves now sought an opportunity for revenge.
Lepidus, the third member of the Triumvirate, whom Augustus had summoned from Africa, to support the campaign, with a confidence buoyed by his command of twenty legions, demanded menacingly to be granted overall control, but Augustus deprived him of his troops, and though Lepidus successfully sued for his life, exiled him for the remainder of it (36BC) to Circei.
Book Two: XVII His Victory over Antony and Cleopatra
Eventually Augustus terminated his tenuous and uncertain alliance with Mark Antony, which had been punctuated by division and reconciliation. In order to show how far short his rival had fallen of the standard of conduct appropriate to a citizen, he had Antony’s will, which had been deposited in Rome, and named his children by Cleopatra among the heirs, opened, and read aloud in public. Yet, when the Senate outlawed Antony, he allowed his friends and relatives to join him, including Gaius Sosius and Gnaeus Domitius, the consuls. And he excused the city of Bononia, which had been dependent on the Antonii since ancient times, from rallying with the rest of Italy to his own standard. Not long afterwards he achieved his great naval victory at Actium (in 31BC), where the battle raged to so late an hour that he spent the night on board.
After Actium, he went into winter quarters at Samos, where he heard the troubling news of a mutiny among the troops, hand-picked from every army division, whom he had sent forward to Brundisium (Brindisi), and who now demanded a bounty and their discharge. Sailing for Italy, he encountered two fierce gales, one between the headlands of the Peloponnese and Aetolia, the other off the coast below the Ceraunian mountain range. In both storms part of his fleet of galleys was sunk, while the flagship’s rigging carried away and her rudder was shattered.
He spent only enough time at Brundisium, twenty-seven days, to pacify the soldiers, and then sailed for Egypt, along the coasts of Asia Minor and Syria. Once there, he laid siege to Alexandria, where Antony had taken refuge with Cleopatra, swiftly capturing the city (in 30BC). In the end, Mark Antony sued for peace, but Augustus drove him to commit suicide, and personally viewed the body. Wishing to preserve Cleopatra’s life, so she might adorn his triumph, he had Psylli snake-charmers brought, believing her to be dying from the bite of an asp, to suck the poison from her self-inflicted wound.
He allowed both Antony and Cleopatra an honourable burial in the one tomb, and ordered the mausoleum they had begun to be completed. But Marcus Antonius the Younger, who was the elder of Antony’s two sons by Fulvia, was torn from the statue of the God Julius, to which he had fled after futile pleas for mercy, and murdered. Augustus had Caesarion killed too, Caesar’s son by Cleopatra, who had been captured while fleeing. Nevertheless, he did spare the rest of Cleopatra’s children by Antony, and brought them up and maintained them according to their rank, as diligently as if they had been members of his own family.
Book Two: XVIII The Tomb of Alexander the Great
At this time he ordered the sarcophagus, containing Alexander the Great’s mummified body, to be removed from its shrine and, after gazing at the body, placed a golden crown on its brow and strewed it with flowers, as a mark of respect. Asked if he would like to see the Tomb of the Ptolemies next, he replied: ‘I wished to see a king, not a row of corpses.’
Augustus turned Egypt from a kingdom into a Roman province, and to increase its productivity and make it more useful as a source of grain for Rome he then set his troops to work clearing out the irrigation channels in the Nile Delta, which over time had become silted.
He founded a city, Nicopolis, opposite Actium, to augment the glory of his victory and perpetuate its memory. He also established the celebration of Games there every five years, enlarged the temple of Apollo at Actium, and adorned the site of his camp there with trophies of the naval victory, consecrating it to Neptune and Mars.
Book Two: XIX Rebellions and Conspiracies
He later suppressed a number of rebellious outbreaks, revolutionary plots and conspiracies, all betrayed before they could pose a serious threat. The leaders of various conspiracies were, in historical order; Lepidus the Younger (30BC); next Varro Murena and Fannius Caepio (23BC); followed by Marcus Egnatius (19BC); then by Plautius Rufus (6BC); and by Lucius Aemilius Paulus (after1BC), the husband of Augustus’ grand-daughter Julia the Younger In addition there was a plot concocted by a feeble old man, who had been indicted for forgery, Lucius Audasius (between 2BC-4AD); another by Asinius Epicadus, a man of mixed race and Parthian descent (after 6AD); and lastly that of a house-slave, Telephus, a nomenclator assigned simply to remind his mistress of the names of those she met, showing that even the lower ranks conspired against him, and threatened his security.
Audacius and Epicadus had forged plots to forcibly rescue, respectively, Augustus’ daughter Julia the Elder and his grandson Agrippa Postumus, from the prison islands where they were confined, and convey them to the army abroad. Telephus, suffering from a delusion that he was fated to become Emperor, intended to attack not only Augustus but the Senate itself. There was even an orderly from the army camp in Illyria, who eluded the guards, and was apprehended armed with a hunting knife not far from the Emperor’s bedroom, though whether the man was mad or merely feigning madness is uncertain, since he refused to speak even under torture.
Book Two: XX His Imperial Campaigning
Augustus commanded in person in only two foreign campaigns: in Dalmatia (35-33BC), when he was still a young man and against the Cantabrians (26-25BC) after defeating Antony. In the former campaign while fighting he was wounded in the right knee by a sling-stone, in the latter both arms and a leg were badly injured by a bridge collapse. His other wars were conducted by his generals, though during the campaigns in Pannonia and Germany he visited the front, or was not far behind, travelling from Rome to Ravenna, Mediolanum (Milan), or Aquileia.
Book Two: XXI His Consolidation of Empire
Either as commander in the field, or as commander-in-chief of the armies under his auspices, he conquered Cantabria, Aquitania, Pannonia, Dalmatia, and all Illyricum, as well as Raetia with the Alpine tribes of the Vindelici and Salassi. He also checked the Dacian incursions, inflicting heavy casualties and killing three of their leaders; drove the Germans back across the Albis (Elbe) except for the Suebi and Sigambri who after surrender were resettled in Gaul near the Rhine; and pacified other tribes who were a source of trouble.
However, he never warred against any nation without just and necessary cause, and far from wishing to increase his power or win glory at any cost, he insisted rather that various barbarian leaders swore an oath, in the temple of Mars the Avenger, to keep the peace faithfully that they had sought. Since they disregarded treaties secured by male hostages, he tried to enforce their pledges in a new way by taking female hostages instead, though they were allowed to replace their hostages as they wished.
Even when faced with frequent rebellion or particularly treacherous behaviour, Augustus refrained from a more severe punishment than selling the captives into slavery, on condition they were separated from their own territories, and not freed within thirty years. Such therefore was the reputation he won for exercising power with moderation that even the Indians and Scythians, known to us only by hearsay, freely sent envoys, requesting his friendship and that of the Roman people.
The Parthians too readily accepted his claim to Armenia, and not only returned (in 20BC) the standards they had seized from Crassus (in 53BC, at Carrhae) and Mark Antony (in 40 and 36BC), but also offered hostages. And once, when there were several rival claimants to the throne, they insisted on accepting only the candidate he chose.
Book Two: XXII Peace and Triumphs
As a sign that he had won peace on land and at sea, and in record time, the gates of the temple of Janus Quirinus were closed (in 29BC), having previously only been closed twice before his day. He received the lesser triumph of an ovation (40BC) after Philippi, and again after Sicily (36BC), and celebrated three full triumphs (in 29BC), on three successive days for his victories in Dalmatia, off Actium, and at Alexandria.
Book Two: XXIII The Defeats of Lollius and Varus
He suffered only two defeats, both in Germany, each serious and shaming, involving his generals Lollius and Varus. Of these defeats the former (in 15BC) was humiliating rather than dangerous, but the latter (in 9AD) was highly damaging, three legions being destroyed with the loss of the general, his staff and all the auxiliary forces.
When the news reached Rome, Augustus ordered night patrols throughout the city to prevent disturbances, and extended the terms of provincial governors, so that treaties with Rome’s allies might be upheld by experienced officials whom they knew. He also vowed to hold Games in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, as soon as the situation returned to normal, a similar vow having been made during the Cimbric (113-101BC) and Marsian (90-88BC) Wars.
They say, indeed, that he was so troubled that he cut neither beard nor hair for several months, and would beat his head against the door, crying: ‘Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!’ And he always observed the anniversary of the disaster as a day of grief and mourning.
Book Two: XXIV His Use of Discipline
Augustus both introduced a host of changes and innovations in military life, and revived past practices. He was a strict disciplinarian, who only reluctantly allowed his generals home-leave to visit their wives, and then only in winter. He sold a Roman knight into slavery and auctioned off his property, for mutilating his two young sons, by cutting of their thumbs, to render them unfit for military service, though when he realised that a consortium of tax-collectors was bidding for the man, he demoted him to an imperial freedman, on the understanding that he be banished to the country, but be given his liberty.
He discharged the entire Tenth Legion, in disgrace, for insubordination, and disbanded others too, who made insolent demands for their release, without the usual rewards for loyal service. If any cohort broke in battle, he executed every tenth man chosen by lot, and replaced the wheat ration with barley, and if centurions deserted their posts, they were sentenced to death like other ranks. If they committed lesser faults, he exacted various forms of degrading punishment, such as standing before the general’s tent all day, sometimes in their tunics and without sword-belts, or carrying, at other times, ten-foot poles or lumps of turf.
Book Two: XXV His Soldiers
When addressing the troops or issuing edicts, he dropped the use of the word ‘comrades’ as soon as the Civil Wars were over, and always used the term ‘soldiers’. Even those of his sons and stepsons who held military commands followed suit. He thought ‘comrades’ too flattering a form of address to be good for discipline, appropriate for peace-time, or consonant with his and his family’s dignity. He only enlisted freedmen in the army on two occasions, excluding their employment as firemen in Rome, and to prevent riots in times of food shortages: firstly to guard the colonies on the borders of Illyricum, and secondly to defend the Roman banks of the Rhine. Even these, slaves from wealthy households who were thereupon freed, were segregated from the free-born soldiers in the units they joined, and not allowed the same equipment.
He was far readier to award a silver or gold plaque or collar, as a military decoration, than a mural crown, which was traditionally given for scaling a wall or rampart, since it conferred great honour. He awarded a crown as infrequently as possible, without displaying favouritism, conferring the honour even on ordinary privates.
Marcus Agrippa was indeed granted the right to fly a blue ensign after his naval victory off Sicily, but Augustus considered his subordinates who had celebrated triumphs should be, uniquely, ineligible for decorations, even if they had accompanied him on campaign and contributed to his victories, since they had been awarded the right of bestowing honours themselves on any man they wished.
He thought the greatest failings in an experienced commander were over-eagerness and recklessness, and often quoted the Greek sayings: More haste less speed, and Better safe than sorry, and the Latin one: Done well enough is done fast enough. He used to say that no war or battle should ever be initiated unless the hope of gain was greater than the fear of loss, since he thought taking large risks with the chance of small gain was like fishing with a golden hook, whose value if lost was greater than any catch.
Book Two: XXVI His Consulships
He received offices and honours himself, some before the usual age, and some newly created and for life. He seized the consulship at nineteen (in 43BC), marching against Rome as the city were his enemy, and sending messengers ahead to demand the appointment be confirmed in the army’s name. When the Senators hesitated to obey, Cornelius, the leader of the deputation and a centurion, parted his military cloak to show the hilt of his sword, and said loudly: ‘This will make him consul, if you don’t.’
He was consul once more ten years later (33BC) and again after a year’s lapse (31BC). He then held the consulship for a further eight-year period (30-23BC), but for a long time declined the opportunities offered, before asking for a twelfth term eighteen years later (5BC) and a thirteenth three years afterwards (2BC) because he wanted to hold the highest office when his adopted sons Gaius and Lucius, respectively, came of age and were introduced to public life.
The sixth to the tenth consulships (28-24BC) he held for the full year’s term, while the rest were held for three, four, six or nine months only, while the second (33BC) lasted only a few hours, since after seating himself, early on New Year’s Day, on the ivory curule chair in front of the temple of Capitoline Jupiter, he resigned the office to another.
Book Two: XXVII Triumvir, Tribune, Censor
He was a member of the Second Triumvirate for ten years (43-33BC), an arrangement designed to restore order to the State, and while he initially opposed his colleagues plans for proscription, once begun he carried it through more ruthlessly than either of the others. While they were frequently influenced by personal interventions, and pleas for mercy, Augustus alone demanded none be spared. He even added Gaius Toranius to the list of proscribed persons, his guardian and his father Octavius’ colleague as aedile.
Julius Saterninus added that when the process of proscription had ended, Lepidus addressed the Senate, justifying their actions, and encouraging the hope of greater leniency thereafter, since enough pain had been inflicted. But Augustus declared that, on the contrary, he had consented to ending proscription, only if he were given a free hand in future. Nevertheless, he later exhibited regret for his inflexibility by making Titus Vinius Philopoemen a knight, for concealing his patron, who was on the list of the proscribed.
Augustus, as triumvir, was universally detested for many of his actions. Once, while addressing his soldiers, seeing that a crowd of civilians had been admitted to the gathering, and that a knight, Pinarius, was making notes, he thought him overly inquisitive, took him for a spy, and had him stabbed there and then. Again because Tedius Afer, a consul elect, made a spiteful comment about some action of his, he threatened him with such menaces that Afer subsequently leapt to his death. When Quintus Gallius, a praetor, paid his respects while clutching some folded writing-tablets under his robe, Augustus suspected he was grasping a concealed weapon. Not daring to search him there and then in case he was wrong, he presently had a squad of officers and soldiers drag him from the tribunal. Though Gallius was tortured as if he were a slave, and though he confessed to nothing, Augustus tore the man’s eyes out with his own hands, before ordering his execution. He himself claims, however, that Gallius asked for an audience, only to make a treacherous attack upon him, and that the man was first imprisoned then sent off into exile, later drowning in a shipwreck, or being ambushed by brigands.
Augustus was granted the powers of a tribune for life, and either once or twice chose a colleague to share the five-year periods of office. Though without the title of Censor, he was also tasked by the Senate with the lifelong supervision of public morals and the legal code, and by virtue of this carried out a census on three occasions (28BC, 8BC, and 14AD), the first and third times with a colleague and the second time alone.
Book Two: XXVIII Sole Ruler
Augustus twice considered restoring the Republic: firstly after the death of Mark Antony, when he recalled his rival’s often-repeated charge that the failure to do so was his fault; and again when, exhausted from persistent illness, he summoned the Senators and magistrates to his house, to report to them on the overall state of the empire. On reflecting, however, that both his own life and the security of the State might be jeopardised, if authority were divided, he decided to retain power in his own hands. The results equalled his intention, often stated, and even published in an edict, in which he declares: ‘May it be my privilege to establish the State on a firm and secure basis, and harvest, from that, the fruits of my desire; that I may be called the creator of the best of governments, and maintain the hope, in dying, that the traces of the foundations I have laid will yet remain.’ He did so establish the State, making every effort to obviate any dissatisfaction with the new regime.
Since Rome’s architecture was inadequate to the demands of empire, and the city was vulnerable to fire and flood, he so adorned it that he could rightly boast that what he had found as brick he left as marble. And indeed he secured it for posterity, inasmuch as human foresight can achieve such a thing.
Book Two: XXIX Public Works
He carried out an extensive program of public works, among which the following are of particular note: his Forum with its Temple of Mars the Avenger (started c20BC, dedicated 2BC); the Palatine Temple of Apollo (dedicated 28BC), and the Temple of Jupiter the Thunderer on the Capitol (dedicated 22BC).
His justification for building a new Forum (work began in 42BC) was the inadequacy of the existing two, given the increase in population, and the number of legal actions now brought. That was why he opened it quickly for public use before the Temple of Mars was completed. It was the forum used thereafter for public prosecutions and the casting of lots for jury service. It was during the Philippi campaign, to avenge Caesar, that he made the vow to build the Temple of Mars, and he therefore decreed that it should be used by the Senate to debate potential declarations of war or claims for triumphs to be celebrated; that military commanders leaving for the provinces should be escorted from there on their journey; and that victorious leaders should bear the triumphal tokens of their triumphs to it on their return.
He had the Temple of Apollo erected in a section of his house on the Palatine favoured by the god, so the soothsayers claimed, since it had been struck by lightning. Its colonnades housed Latin and Greek libraries, and in old age he often held Senate meetings there or revised the jury lists.
His dedication of the shrine to Jupiter the Thunderer was prompted by a narrow escape on a night march in Cantabria (in 26BC), when a lightning bolt scorched his litter and killed a slave with a torch walking in front.
Some public works he named on behalf of relatives: such as the colonnade and basilica of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius (dedicated 2BC); the colonnades of his wife Livia (dedicated 7BC) and sister Octavia the Younger (dedicated after 27BC); and the theatre of his nephew Marcellus (inaugurated 12BC). Moreover he urged other leading citizens to embellish the city with new monuments or restore and enrich old ones, according to their means. A great deal of such work was undertaken; for example the Temple of Hercules and the Muses was restored by Marcius Philippus (in 29BC); the Temple of Diana rebuilt by Lucius Cornificius; the Hall of Liberty re-built by Asinius Pollio (completed 28BC); the Temple of Saturn restored by Munatius Plancus (completed c30BC); a theatre built by Cornelius Balbus (completed 13BC); an amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus (29BC); and a variety of magnificent edifices by Marcus Agrippa (including the original Pantheon in 27BC).
Book Two: XXX Civic Improvements
Augustus created city districts and wards, with the former under magistrates chosen by lot, and the latter under locally elected supervisors.
He organised a night-watch to guard against fires, located in a series of stations, and to prevent flooding, broadened and dredged the Tiber channel, which had been narrowed by jutting houses and blocked with rubbish.
Furthermore, to improve city access from every direction he reconstructed the Flaminian Way as far as Ariminum (Rimini, triumphal arch 27BC), at his own expense, and called on those who had won triumphs to put their prize-money to good use on all the rest.
Many sacred buildings had deteriorated with time or been damaged by fire, and he restored and beautified these and other shrines with magnificent gifts. One of his offerings alone to the Temple of Capitoline Jupiter consisted of sixteen thousand pounds of gold, with pearls and gems to the value of half a million gold pieces.
Book Two: XXXI Religious Reforms and Memorials
Not wishing to deprive Lepidus of the Chief Priesthood during his lifetime, despite his exile, Augustus waited until the triumvir’s death (in 13BC), to assume the office. After doing so, he gathered together all the Greek and Latin prophecies still in circulation, which were either anonymous or the work of authors devoid of authority, and burned more than two thousand, keeping only the Sibylline Books, which he edited and placed in two gilded cases under the pedestal of the statue of Palatine Apollo (in 12BC)
He also restored the calendar, reformed by Julius Caesar and allowed through negligence to fall into confusion and disorder, and rather than renaming his own birth-month of September, he renamed the month Sextilis, August, because in that month he won his first consulship and his most notable victories were celebrated.
He swelled the ranks and dignity of the priesthood, and also their privileges, especially those of the Vestal Virgins. Moreover, though many families exerted all their influence to avoid their daughters’ names being added to the list, when a Vestal was chosen by lot to replace one who had died, Augustus would declare on oath that if any of his grand-daughters had been of eligible age he would have proposed them.
He also revived various ancient rites which had lapsed with time, such as the augury of the Goddess Safety, the office of Flamen Dialis, the festival of the Lupercalia, the Secular Games, and the festival of the Compitalia. At the Lupercalia youth who had not yet shaved off their first beard were forbidden from running, while at the Secular Games young people might only attend night-time performances when chaperoned. He ordained that the Lares of the Crossroads, should be crowned twice a year with wreaths of spring and summer flowers.
He honoured the memory of those notable men who had raised the Roman people from obscurity to greatness only less than the immortal gods. He therefore restored the buildings they had created and their original inscriptions, and dedicated statues of them in triumphal robes, in the twin colonnades of his Forum, proclaiming by edict: ‘I have done this, that the citizens might demand of me, while I live, and of my successors to come, that we attain the standard set by these great men of old.’
Book Two: XXXII Security and Legal Reforms
Various pernicious practices detrimental to public order had survived, a legacy of Civil War lawlessness, while others had appeared as a product of peacetime. Sword-wielding gangs of thieves, supposedly armed for self-defence, roamed the countryside, while both freedmen and slaves were kidnapped while travelling and imprisoned by landowners. Illegal guilds too were formed as a cover for crime. To put a stop to all this Augustus stationed armed guards wherever seemed most effective, had the slave-camps inspected, and disbanded all guilds except those which were legitimate and of long-standing.
He burned the list of old treasury debts, the most common source of blackmail, and made over, to their occupants, city sites where the State’s title to ownership was dubious. He expunged from the court lists old unresolved cases, the public humiliation of the accused serving no purpose except their enemies’ satisfaction, stipulating that anyone might renew the charge if they were prepared to risk statutory punishment for the crime if the defendant was found innocent. And to prevent actions for damages or disputed claims from lapsing or being delayed, he added the thirty days normally given over to the Games, in honour of prominent citizens, to the law-term.
A fourth division of jurors, the ducenarii, who each owned only half of a knight’s estate, was added to the previous three, to resolve small claims, and Augustus enrolled men over thirty as jurors, reducing the qualifying age by five years. However when there was a general move to avoid jury service, he agreed reluctantly that each division of jurors should gain a year’s exemption in turn, and broke with tradition by closing the courts in November and December.
Book Two: XXXIII His Administration of Justice
He was conscientious in administering justice himself, remaining in court till nightfall or, if he was ill, presiding from a litter on the tribunal platform, or even at home from his sick-bed. As judge he was scrupulous but merciful: for example, it is said that he saved a man guilty beyond doubt of parricide from the punishment destined for those who pleaded guilty, of being sewn in a sack and drowned, by asking for the man’s plea, in the form: ‘Surely you did not kill your father?
Again, in the case of a forged will, in which all the signatories were jointly liable under the Cornelian Laws, he handed the jury not only the tablets signifying conviction or acquittal, but a third to allow pardon for those induced to sign through fraud or ignorance. Every year he referred appeals from citizens to the city praetor, while those from foreigners went to the ex-consuls he had appointed to oversee the affairs of each province.
Book Two: XXXIV Revision of the Laws
He both revised existing laws and enacted new ones, for example on profligacy, adultery, chastity, bribery and to encourage marriage and procreation among the Senatorial and Equestrian orders. He was unable to bring the last of these, which aroused open rebellion against its overly stringent provisions, into effect until he had removed or softened many of its clauses, and extended the immunities, including the granting of a three year exemption to a widow or widower on the death of their spouse. When the knights still persisted in urging its repeal, during a public show, he sent for his grandchildren, born to Germanicus and Agrippina, and he and Germanicus dandled them on their knees, making it clear by his affectionate looks and gestures that they should all follow the young man’s example. Finding that the spirit of the law was being flouted by those who betrothed themselves to immature girls to delay the responsibilities of fatherhood, or frequently divorced and re-married to avoid the same, he shortened the legal period between betrothal and marriage, and limited the number of divorces per individual.
Book Two: XXXV Reform of the Senate
The Senate, now numbering more than a thousand, a shapeless and ill-disciplined crowd, some of whom, the freedmen of Orcus, were unworthy of their position, having been admitted only through favouritism and bribery after Julius Caesar’s death, Augustus reduced to its former size, and restored to its previous dignity by a two-step method of de-selection. Firstly the Senate selected its own short-list, each Senator being allowed to nominate one other, and then Augustus assisted by Agrippa joined the Senate to review their nominations. On the second occasion, he is said to have worn a steel corselet under his tunic and a sword at his side, while presiding, with ten of his closest senatorial friends standing by his chair. Even then, according to Cremutius Cordus, the candidates were only allowed to approach singly, after a search of their robes. He shamed some into resigning, though they too were still permitted to retain their distinctive mode of dress, view the Games from the orchestra seats, and attend the Order’s public banquets.
In addition, in order to ensure that those short-listed, and then approved, performed their duties more diligently yet at less inconvenience to themselves, he determined that each member before taking his seat should offer wine and incense at the god’s altar in whatever temple they were meeting, but that the Senate should not meet more than twice a month, on the Kalends and Ides, while in September and October only a quorum drawn by lot and sufficient to pass decrees need attend.
He also adopted the idea of a Privy Council, chosen by lot for a six-month term, to enable prior discussion of matters due to be laid before the whole Senate. And during crucial debates, he called on members to give their opinions, not in traditional order of seniority but as he chose, so that everyone had to keep awake, and act as a critic, not merely nod their assent.
Book Two: XXXVI Reform of the Administration
He introduced other administrative changes too, including: a ban on publication of the Senate proceedings; a statutory delay between the end of a magistrate’s term of office and his departure for foreign parts; a fixed allowance to be paid to provincial governors for tents and mules, instead of charging these to the State when contracted for; the transfer of Treasury control from the city quaestors to praetors or ex-praetors; and a ruling that the Centumviral Court formerly convoked by ex-quaestors should now be summoned by the Board of Ten.
Book Two: XXXVII Extensions to Public Office
Augustus, wishing to draw more candidates into the administration, created new offices to deal with the maintenance of roads, aqueducts and buildings; the dredging of the Tiber; and the distribution of grain; as well as a City prefecture, a Board of Three for selecting new Senators, and another for inspecting the knights’ companies as required.
He also revived the Censors’ office, which had long ceased to function, and increased the number of praetors. One request, that when he held the consulship he should be granted two colleagues and not merely one, was not endorsed, there being a general outcry against it, on the grounds that it was already a sufficient detraction from his supreme dignity to accept even a single colleague.
Book Two: XXXVIII Maintenance of Military Capability
Military success was honoured by him, with full triumphs granted to more than thirty generals, and triumphal regalia to even more.
His policy of encouraging Senator’s sons to gain early experience of public life meant that they were permitted to wear the purple-striped gown as soon as they came of age, and to attend meetings of the House. When they took up their military career, he gave them not merely a tribunate in their legion, but command of a cavalry division too, and to provide headquarters experience always appointed two to each division.
In his frequent inspections of the knights’ companies, he revived the tradition of riding in procession which had long been allowed to lapse, but not that of forcing anyone to dismount who was accused of crime by a spectator, as in the past, while allowing the old and infirm to have their horses led in review but attend the summons on foot. He later excused those over thirty-five from publicly surrendering their horses if they did not wish to retain them.
Book Two: XXXIX Examination of the Knights
Every knight was cross-examined on his personal affairs by Augustus, assisted by ten Senators. Those whose behaviour proved scandalous were sometimes punished or down-graded, but most were simply reprimanded more or less severely. The most lenient form of rebuke was to be handed a pair of tablets containing his words of censure to be read in silence while standing before him. Some he criticised for borrowing money in order to lend at a higher rate of interest.
Book Two: XL Electoral and Citizenship Reform
If there was a shortage of candidates of Senatorial rank standing for election as tribunes, he appointed knights to fill the vacancies, allowing them to remain members of the Equestrian Order or become Senators as they wished after their term of office. Many knights whose wealth had suffered as a result of the Civil Wars were so afraid of being penalised under the laws governing public entertainments that they avoided taking up their seats in the fourteen rows reserved for them, and in consequence Augustus decreed that anyone who had ever been a knight or was a knight’s son was exempt.
He revised the district lists of those entitled to public grain distribution, and decided to avoid tradesmen being called away from their occupations to receive their allocation too frequently, by issuing tokens three times a year granting entitlement to four months supply. However, at their urging, he restored the previous tradition of monthly allocations.
He also revived traditional election privileges, while attempting to stamp out bribery by imposing numerous penalties and by distributing ten gold pieces each, on election day, from his own funds, to members of the Fabian tribe, which included the Octavians, and the Scaptian tribe, to which the Julians belonged, to avoid them seeking anything from the candidates.
He was chary of conferring Roman citizenship, thinking it vital to keep the race pure and untainted by foreign or slave blood, and to the latter end setting a limit to manumission. Tiberius once requested citizenship for a Greek dependant of his, to which request Augustus wrote in reply that he would not grant it unless the man appeared in person and convinced him there were just grounds for acceding. Similarly, when Livia made the same plea for a Gaul from a tributary province, he refused her, offering to free the man from paying tribute while saying that he would rather put up with the loss to the Privy Purse than debase the honour of Roman citizenship. And not satisfied with strictly regulating the number of those manumitted, according to condition and status, thereby making it difficult for slaves to win their freedom, let alone rights of citizenship, he also decreed that no slave who had ever been in irons or subject to torture could acquire citizenship, regardless of the manner of his freedom.
Augustus was keen to revive the ancient Roman mode of dress, and once, on seeing a group of men in dark cloaks amongst the crowd, he quoted Virgil, in his indignation:
‘See the Romans, lords of all, the people of the toga!’
And he told the aediles never again to let anyone appear in the Forum, or near it, without a toga, or with a cloak.
Book Two: XLI His Financial Generosity
He showed his financial generosity on many occasions; for example, in bringing the treasure of the Ptolemies to Rome for his Alexandrian triumph he so increased the amount of credit available that interest rates fell, while real estate values were rapidly inflated. And subsequently, when the estates of those condemned were appropriated, he offered fixed-period interest-free loans to those who could offer security for double the amount.
Though he increased the property qualification for Senators from eight thousand to twelve thousand gold pieces, he himself made up the amount for those who fell short.
He often distributed money to the citizens, varying the amounts, for example from two and a half, to three, or even four gold pieces each, including their sons of eleven years of age and under, too, contrary to previous custom. And in times of food shortage he frequently allocated grain at a cheap rate, sometimes refusing to charge, and doubled the quota of distribution tokens allocated to each man.
Book Two: XLII His Disregard for Popularity
Nevertheless, he frequently showed that his main concern was for the public good rather than courting popularity. When citizens complained of the scarcity of wine and its exorbitant price, he reproached them saying: ‘No man need go thirsty, while my son-in-law Agrippa provides all these aqueducts’. Again, when people demanded that he make good on a promise of gifts, he answered: ‘What I say, I do.’ But when they asked for what had not been promised them, he issued a proclamation calling them impudent and shameless, and refusing to grant what he had previously had every intention of giving.
He was equally firm and mindful of his authority in saying, on one occasion, that though he had promised to distribute money to each citizen on the census rolls, manumitted slaves who had been added to the list, and to whom he considered no promise had been made, were entitled to nothing. The total amount allocated had to suffice, and so all received less per man than was originally promised.
When a period of shortages occurred, and there was no apparent way of increasing the supply, he expelled slaves awaiting sale, from the city, as well as the members of gladiatorial schools, all foreigners except doctors and teachers, and even a quota of household slaves. When the grain supply returned to normal he wrote: ‘I was tempted to decree the permanent abolition of public allocations of cheap grain, because through reliance on them the bringing of new land into cultivation was discouraged: yet I ultimately saw no point in attempting it, knowing they would be bound to be restored some day in order to curry favour with the electorate.’ However, from that time on, he moderated his own practice, taking account of the interests of farmers and grain-merchants as well as the general public.
Book Two: XLIII His Public Entertainments
He went well beyond all his predecessors in the frequency, variety and magnificence of his public shows. He says that he presented four sets of Games in his own name, and twenty-three for other city magistrates who were either absent or could not afford the cost. Sometimes he mounted theatricals throughout the City, on a variety of stages, the plays enacted in various languages. And gladiatorial combats were held not just in the Forum or Amphitheatre, but in the Circus and Enclosure as well: though occasionally he merely presented a fight with wild-beasts.
He held athletic competitions in the Campus Martius, too, erecting tiers of wooden seats; and constructed an artificial lake beside the Tiber, where the Grove of the Caesars now stands, in order to stage a mock naval battle (2BC). On such occasions he posted guards throughout the City to prevent the empty houses being robbed.
In the Circus he held chariot-races; foot-races; and wild beast fights, sometimes involving young noblemen. He also ordered frequent performances of the Troy Game, between troops of older and younger boys, considering participation in that ancient and worthy ritual a fine way for the sons of great houses to make their public debut. When Nonius Asprenas was lamed by a fall from his horse while taking part, Augustus not only presented him with a gold torque but bestowed on him the hereditary surname of Torquatus. But he discontinued the event after Asinius Pollio’s grandson Aeserninus broke his leg, and the orator took him bitterly to task in an angry speech in the Senate.
He occasionally allowed Roman knights to perform in theatrical and gladiatorial displays, until it was forbidden by Senate decree. After that no one of rank took part in the events, except Lycius, a young man less than two foot tall and only seventeen pounds in weight, yet possessing a stentorian voice, who was there simply to display his unique qualities. Though he did parade the first Parthian hostages ever sent to Rome, at one of the Games, leading them through the Arena and placing them two rows behind his own seat. And if anything rare and curious was brought to Rome, he would exhibit it, by itself, in some convenient location, whenever there were no public shows. For example a rhinoceros was displayed in the Enclosure (Saepta); a tiger on the Theatre stage, and an eighty-foot snake in front of the Assembly Hall (Comitium).
When he was taken ill, on a day when Games he had vowed to give in the Circus were due to begin, he nevertheless headed the sacred procession lying in a litter; and he opened the Games at the dedication of the Theatre of Marcellus even though his chair of state gave way and tipped him on his back; while at the Games for his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, when the crowd panicked thinking the seating might collapse, and could not be reassured or pacified, he left his own seat and went and sat in the area they thought most suspect.
Book Two: XLIV His Regulation of Spectators
Annoyed by the disrespect shown to a Senator at some well-attended Games in Puteoli, where no one offered the man a seat in the crowded theatre, Augustus put an end, by special regulation, to the disorderly and haphazard nature of the proceedings, and the decree which resulted stated that the first row of seats at any public performance were now to be reserved for Senators.
He also prevented the envoys of independent or allied nations from taking their seats in the Orchestra, having learnt that some of those appointed were merely freedmen. He separated soldiers from the civilians too; allocated a special section for married commoners, and adjoining ones for under-age boys, and their tutors; and banned dark cloaks from the middle tiers of the auditorium.
Women were confined to the upper levels, even at gladiatorial shows where men and women previously sat together in all sections. The Vestal Virgins alone had privileged seating facing the praetor’s tribunal. And women were strictly excluded from athletic contests. Indeed, when there was clamour for a boxing contest during the Games to honour his appointment as Chief Priest, he allocated it to the following morning, and proclaimed that he did not wish to see women attend the Theatre that day before ten.
Book Two: XLV His Presence at the Games
He himself usually watched the Games from the upper rooms of friends and freedmen which overlooked the Circus, or sometimes from the imperial box, even being accompanied, on occasions, by his wife and children. He used to excuse himself from appearing until the Games had been running for several hours, or days, appointing a presiding officer in his place, but when he was present attended carefully to the performances, out of interest and delight in the spectacle, to which he always frankly confessed, and to avoid the censure that followed Julius Caesar, his adoptive father, who would sit there reading and answering letters and petitions.
His enjoyment of the action led him to offer special prizes, and personal gifts funded from the Privy Purse, at Games given by others, and he never attended Greek-style contests without rewarding the competitors according to their merits. He particularly favoured boxers, especially those of Latin birth, not just the professionals whom he matched even with Greeks, but ordinary untrained amateurs who fought their clumsy bouts in the narrow streets.
In short, he honoured every class of performer who took part, upholding and enhancing the privileges accorded to athletes; banning gladiatorial contests where no quarter was given; and stripping the magistrates of their ancient power to punish actors, except during the Games and at the Theatre.
However he was a strict disciplinarian where wrestling and gladiatorial combats were concerned. And he was particularly severe on actors who exceeded their licence. On hearing that the page-boy who attended on Stephanio, the Roman actor, was really a married woman with her hair cropped, he had the man beaten with rods through all three Theatres, those of Pompey, Cornelius Balbus and Marcellus, and then exiled. Hylas, the pantomimic actor, was openly scourged in the atrium of his own house, because a praetor complained about him; while Pylades was not only expelled from the City, but banished from Italy, for directing the whole audience’s attention to a spectator who was hissing him, by giving him the finger.
Book Two: XLVI His Encouragement of Population Increase
Having brought order to Rome and its administration, Augustus next sought to increase the population of Italy, by personally founding twenty-eight colonies of veterans; providing the towns with public buildings and revenue; and giving them a degree of equality with Rome in terms of their rights and dignity. He did this by devising a system whereby the local senators voted for candidates for administrative office, the votes being sent under seal to Rome and counted on Election Day.
To maintain the number of tribunes and prefects, he allowed the townships to recommend men capable of occupying military posts normally reserved for the Equestrian Order, while to encourage an increase in the wider population of Rome, he distributed bounties of ten gold pieces on his tour of the city wards, for every legitimate child produced by a commoner.
Book Two: XLVII His Administration of the Provinces
Augustus claimed for himself (in 27BC) the command of the more demanding provinces, those which it was difficult or dangerous for an annually-appointed governor to control. The rest were assigned to proconsuls chosen by lot. However, at times, he re-assigned provinces between the two categories, and made visits to many of those in both.
He deprived certain cities, allied to Rome but ruining themselves through indiscipline, of their independence; relieved others of their overwhelming debt; rebuilt cities devastated by earthquakes; and gave Latin Rights of limited citizenship, or even full citizenship, to those with a demonstrable record of service to Rome.
I believe the only provinces he failed to visit were Africa and Sardinia, and he had been planning to make crossings to both from Sicily after the defeat of Sextus Pompeius, but was thwarted by violent gales, and later lacked opportunity or occasion to make the journey.
Book Two: XLVIII His Control of Defeated Kingdoms
Apart from a few instances, he restored the kingdoms he gained through conquest to the dynasties from which he had won them, or combined them with some other. He also fostered mutual ties among allied dynasties, readily favouring and proposing marriages or friendships between them.
He invariably treated them all with consideration, as integral parts of the empire, appointing guardians for heirs who were too young to rule until their coming of age, or for rulers whose mental faculties were disturbed, until they recovered. And he raised and educated many of their children with his own.
Book Two: XLIX His Military Dispositions
He allocated his military forces as follows.
He deployed the remaining forces in the defence of Rome and as his own personal troops, though not disbanding the company of Calagurritani who formed part of his bodyguard until the defeat of Mark Antony (30BC) nor the company of Germans he kept by him until disaster overtook Varus (9AD). However, he never allowed more than three cohorts of these forces within the City, and never granted them a permanent camp. The remainder were stationed in nearby towns appropriate for winter or summer quarters as required.
All the troops were subject to a fixed scale of pay and allowances, and the periods of service and bounty due on completion were also fixed according to rank, such that none would be tempted to rebel after they were discharged, through possessing means inadequate to their years. He created a treasury for the military, supported by fresh taxation, in order to have funds on hand at all times to maintain the forces and pay what was due them.
He also created a series of relay stations along the military roads, first using runners and later vehicles to allow despatches from the provinces to travel more swiftly, and arrive more promptly. The use of vehicles proved more effective, since the couriers who travelled with the despatch throughout, could also be questioned regarding the situation.
Book Two: L His Personal Seal
On passports, despatches, and private letters, he used, at first, a seal inscribed with a sphinx, then one with a head of Alexander the Great, and finally one with his own head, cut by Dioscurides, which his successors used in their turn. He not only dated his letters, but also added the exact time of day or night when they were written.
Book Two: LI His Clemency and Moderation
There are numerous instances recorded of his clemency and moderation. Without giving a complete list of the political opponents he not only spared then pardoned, but allowed to hold high office, it is sufficient to mention two plebeians whom he punished with mild sentences. Junius Novatus was simply fined for circulating a vicious libel under the name of Agrippa Postumus, while Cassius Patavinus received only a mild form of exile, for boasting at a well-attended dinner party that he had a strong desire and sufficient courage to assassinate Augustus.
Again, when he was hearing the case against Aemilius Aelianus of Corduba (Cordoba), and the main charge, among various offences, was revealed as the accused man’s habit of ‘vilifying Caesar’, he turned to the prosecutor, with feigned anger, saying: ‘Prove that, and I’ll show Aelianus I’ve a tongue too, and give him more of the same’, and thereupon dropped all further enquiry. When Tiberius complained of the same thing, but more forcibly, in a letter, he wrote back: ‘Don’t indulge your youthful emotions so, dear Tiberius, don’t take it so much to heart if anyone speaks ill of me; indeed it’s enough if we can manage to stop them doing us ill.’
Book Two: LII His Refusal of Honours
Though he knew it was acceptable for temples to be dedicated even to proconsuls, he refused the honour even in the provinces, unless it was in the name of Rome as well as himself. He opposed it emphatically at home, going so far as to melt down silver statues previously erected to him, and dedicating golden tripods to Palatine Apollo with the proceeds.
When the people tried their best to force dictatorship upon him, he knelt down, dragged his gown from his shoulders to expose his bare chest, and begged them to desist.
Book Two: LIII His Public Manner
He was always horrified at being called ‘my lord’, as though it was a term of abuse or censure. Once, while he was watching a comedy and the audience rose and applauded when the words:
‘O just and benign lord!’
were spoken, as if in reference to him, Augustus quelled the indecorous adulation, with a look and a gesture, and the next day issued an edict reprimanding such behaviour. After that he prohibited his children and grandchildren too from calling him by that title even in jest: nor were they allowed to employ such obsequious terms among themselves.
If he could do so he would enter or leave towns and cities in the evening or at night to avoid troubling everyone with a formal ceremony. During his consulship he habitually walked through the streets of Rome quite openly, and only when he was not consul did he go about in a closed litter. Similarly, his morning receptions were open to all, including commoners, and he was affable in dealing with requests, reproving one man jokingly when he presented a petition as nervously ‘as if he was offering a penny to an elephant!’
On Senate days, he waited to greet the members in the House, rather than allowing them to pay the customary calls at his home, not allowing them to rise and calling each by name unprompted, and he left the House in the same manner. He exchanged many social calls, and always attended birthday celebrations until he was jostled by the crowd at a betrothal party when he was well on in years.
When Gallus Cerrinius, a Senator with whom he was only slightly acquainted, suddenly became blind, and resolved to starve to death, Augustus visited to console him and by doing so persuaded him to change his mind.
Book Two: LIV His Tolerance of Free-Speech
His speeches in the House were interrupted by remarks such as ‘That makes no sense!’ or ‘I’d disagree, if I had the chance!’ More than once when he swept from the House, exasperated by the immoderate nature of the debates, some Senator would call out: ‘We’ve a right to speak out on affairs of state!’
When the Senate was reformed and every member was allowed to nominate one other, Antistius Labeo chose Lepidus, Augustus’ old enemy, then in exile. Augustus asked whether there were not others more deserving of the honour, and Labeo replied that everyone was entitled to his own opinion.
Despite all this, no one was ever persecuted for speaking freely or even insolently.
Book Two: LV His Tolerance of Libel
He had no dread of the libels against him distributed in the Senate, but without seeking to discover the authors took great pains to refute their contents. His only proposal on the matter was that anyone caught issuing defamatory prose or verse under another’s name should be prosecuted.
Book Two: LVI His Respect for Established Law and Custom
When he was subject to various spiteful or insolent jokes, he replied to them by means of a public proclamation, but vetoed a law that would have suppressed freedom of speech in the text of a will.
When he took part in City elections, he would tour the wards with his candidates and canvass for them in the traditional way. He would also cast a vote himself, among his own tribe, as a man of the people. And when he testified in court, he submitted patiently to questioning, and even to being contradicted.
His new Forum, too, was narrower than he originally intended, because he did not feel it right to evict the owners of neighbouring houses which were in the way.
He never nominated his adopted sons for office without saying: ‘If they are worthy.’ When they were still lads, and the entire theatre audience rose to honour and applaud them, he showed his clear disapproval.
He wished his friends too to be prominent and influential in public affairs, but insisted they be subject to the common law, and as equally liable to prosecution as others. When his close friend Nonius Asprenas Torquatus faced a charge of poisoning, brought by Cassius Severus, he asked the Senate for their advice, hesitating he said to show his support lest he seemed to be shielding the accused, or of failing to do so and acting falsely while prejudicing the case. With the Senators’ approval he was present in court, but merely sat there for several hours in silence on the benches reserved for witnesses and advocates, and refrained from speaking in praise of the defendant.
He did defend some of his dependants, however, for example a former officer of his, Scutarius, on a charge of slander. But he only succeeded in gaining an acquittal on a single occasion, by making a successful appeal to the plaintiff in the presence of the judges; the accused was Castricius, through whom he had learned of Murena’s conspiracy against him.
Book Two: LVII Public Marks of Affection
The affection which such conduct won can readily be gauged. We might well treat various Senate decrees as having been dictated by subservience or expediency. Yet the Equestrian Order freely and unanimously voted to celebrate his birthday over two consecutive days (September 22nd and 23rd) each year, and a host of men, of all ranks and classes, would throw a small coin annually into the Curtian Pool in the Forum, in fulfilment of a vow for his well-being, and take a New Year’s gift to the Capitol even if he was absent from Rome. He employed the money accruing in dedicating expensive statues of the gods in the city wards, such as an Apollo of Sandal Street, and a Jupiter of the Tragedians.
When the rebuilding of his house on the Palatine, destroyed by fire (in 3AD), was in hand, the veterans, guilds and tribes, wished to contribute, and even private individuals willingly, according to their means, but he simply took a token silver denarius himself from each pile, as a matter of form.
On returning from tours of the provinces, he was always greeted with prayers, good wishes, and songs as well, and it was a custom to defer all punishments on the day he entered the City.
Book Two: LVIII Father of the Country
There was a spontaneous initiative by the whole City to confer the title ‘Father of the Country’ on Augustus, the Commons first sending a deputation to him at Antium (Anzio), where he declined the honour, and attempting it again in Rome where a huge crowd, wearing laurel wreaths, met him outside the theatre; then by the Senate, who refrained from a decree or acclamation, but asked Valerius Messala to address him. On behalf of the whole House, Messala spoke as follows: ‘May good fortune, and the blessing of the gods, shine on you and your family, Caesar Augustus! That is the same, we feel, as praying for our country’s enduring happiness, and the State’s prosperity. The Senate are in accord with the people of Rome in saluting you as Father of the Country.’
Augustus, with tears in his eyes, replied as follows, and again I quote exactly: ‘Fathers of the Senate, having achieved my greatest wish, what more can I ask of the immortal gods, but to retain your unanimous approval to the very end of my days?’
Book Two: LIX Offerings and Commemorations
Various householders’ in their wills stipulated that their heirs should lead sacrificial victims to the Capitol and make an offering on their behalf, if Augustus survived them, and should carry a placard to that effect.
And various Italian cities, which had welcomed him, began their official year from the day of his first visit.
Many provinces not only erected temples and altars to him but held Games, at five-yearly intervals, in the majority of their towns and cities.
Book Two: LX Tributes from the Kingdoms
Allied and friendly kings founded cities called Caesarea, and also jointly funded an attempt to complete the temple of Olympian Jupiter (Zeus), begun centuries before, in Athens, in order to dedicate it to his tutelary divinity.
Kings would forsake their kingdoms to show him the kind of devotion, at Rome or when he travelled through the provinces, usual only in family dependants, forsaking too their emblems of royalty, and dressing only in the toga of honorary citizenship.
Book Two: LXI Domestic and Private Life: His Mother and Sister
Having shown how Augustus behaved in his military and civil career, and how he ruled a world Empire, in peace and war, I will now describe his domestic and private life, his character and his family concerns, from his youth to his death.
During his first consulship (in 43BC) he lost his mother Atia, and at the age of fifty-four (9BC) his sister Octavia the Younger. He had been a devoted son and brother while they lived, and paid them the highest honours at their death.
Book Two: LXII His Marriages
In his youth he was betrothed to Servilia, the daughter of Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus, but on his reconciliation with Mark Antony following their first dispute, the troops begged them to become allied by some tie of kinship, and he married (in 43BC) Claudia, Antony’s stepdaughter, born to Fulvia and Publius Clodius Pulcher, even though Claudia was barely of marriageable age. However he quarrelled with Fulvia, and divorced Claudia before the marriage had been consummated.
Not long afterwards (in 40BC), he married Scribonia, whose previous husbands had been ex-consuls, and to one of whom she had borne a child. He divorced her also ‘tired’, he wrote, ‘of her shrewish ways,’ and immediately took Livia Drusilla from her husband Tiberius Nero though she was pregnant at the time (38BC), loving and esteeming her alone to the end.
Book Two: LXIII His Daughter Julia
Augustus had a daughter Julia, by Scribonia, but his marriage with Livia was childless apart from a premature birth, though he keenly desired children. He first gave Julia in marriage to Marcellus (in 25BC), his sister Octavia the Younger’s son, who was hardly more than a boy. After Marcellus died, he persuaded Octavia to allow her son-in-law Agrippa to wed Julia (in 21BC), Agrippa having married the elder of Marcellus’ two sisters (in 28BC), by whom he had children. When, in turn, Agrippa died, Augustus spent some time considering possible alliances, even among the Equestrian Order, before obliging his stepson Tiberius to divorce his pregnant wife, with whom he already had children, and marry Julia (in 11BC). Mark Antony claims that Julia had been betrothed first to his son Antyllus, and then to Cotiso, King of the Getae, Augustus asking the hand of the king’s daughter’s himself in return.
Book Two: LXIV His Grandchildren
He married (c5BC) Julia the Younger to Lucius Aemilius Paulus, the censor’s son, and (between 5 and 1BC) Agrippina to Germanicus his sister Octavia the Younger’s grandson. Gaius and Lucius he adopted into his House (in 17BC), ‘buying’ them from Agrippa by means of a token sale, initiating them in public affairs while they were young, and granting them command in the provinces while still only consuls-elect.
He brought up his daughter and grand-daughters strictly, even having them taught spinning and weaving, and forbidding them from doing or saying anything that could not be recorded openly in the imperial day-book. He prevented them from meeting strangers, once writing to Lucius Vinicius, a young man of good family and character: ‘You were intemperate in coming to Baiae to see my daughter.’
He taught his grandsons to read and swim, and other skills, for the most part acting as their tutor, and took great pains to have them model their handwriting on his own. Nor would he dine in company without them sitting by him on the lowest couch, or travel unless they rode either side of his carriage or in advance.
Book Two: LXV Deaths and Scandal
But Fortune deserted him at the very moments when he felt happiest and most confident in his offspring and their upbringing. The two Julias, his daughter and granddaughter, being corrupted by every kind of vice, he banished (in 2BC and c8AD respectively). Lucius and Gaius he lost within the space of eighteen months, Lucius dying at Massilia (Marseilles, in 2AD), and Gaius dying in Lycia (in 4AD) leading him to adopt publicly his third grandson Agrippa Postumus, and Tiberius, his stepson, by means of a bill, a lex curiata, passed in the Forum by the comitia curiata. However Augustus disowned Agrippa Postumus not long after, because of his brutish and insolent manner, and despatched him to Surrentum (Sorrento, c6AD).
He was able to come to terms with the death of kin more easily than with their misbehaviour. Though his spirit was not broken by the deaths of Lucius and Gaius, he was so ashamed of his daughter’s misconduct that he had the Senate informed of it by a letter, read aloud by a quaestor; refused to see anyone for a long while; and even considered having her put to death. Indeed, when a freedwoman, named Phoebe, who had been in Julia’s confidence, hanged herself, at that time, he cried out: ‘If only I were Phoebe’s father!’
He denied Julia the Elder wine, and luxuries of any kind, in her exile, and no man, whether enslaved or free, was allowed near her without permission, nor without a note being made of his build, complexion, and even any birthmarks or scars on his body. Only five years later was she moved from her prison island (Pandateria) to the mainland (Rhegium) and treated somewhat less harshly. But he could not be persuaded to recall her to Rome, and when the people tried to intercede on her behalf, on several occasions, earnestly promoting her cause in the popular assembly, he called on the gods to curse them with wives and daughters such as her.
He refused to acknowledge or rear his granddaughter Julia the Younger’s child, born after her banishment was imposed. And as Agrippa Postumus not only became daily less tractable, but increasingly unhinged, he was transferred to an island (Planasia) also, and held under armed guard. A Senate decree specified he was to be confined there indefinitely, and every mention of him or the two Julias, made him give a deep sigh and cry out:
‘Would I had never married, and childless had died.’
And he never spoke of them except as his ‘three tumours’ or his ‘three running sores’.
Book Two: LXVI His Friendships
He was not one to make friends easily, but he cherished his friends with great constancy, not only rewarding them according to their virtue and merit, but even condoning their minor faults. Indeed, it would be hard to name a single one of his many friends who fell from favour, except Salvidienus Rufus, whom he had made consul, and Cornelius Gallus whom he had granted the prefecture of Egypt, in both cases by raising them from the lowest ranks. Salvidienus he handed over to the Senate court, so they might condemn him to death (in 40BC), for abetting revolution; while Gallus, because of the man’s envy and ingratitude, he merely barred from the Imperial house and those provinces governed directly by himself. When Gallus was later charged with offences, and condemned to death by decree (in 26BC), Augustus commended the Senators’ loyalty and their strength of feeling on his account, yet shed tears and bemoaned his position, being unable to treat a dispute with a friend as a private matter. His other friends, despite the occasional coolness, enjoyed wealth and power to the end of their lives, ranking among the leaders of their Orders. Agrippa, it is true, he found short on patience and Maecenas far too indiscreet. The former, feeling a lack of warmth and suspecting favouritism towards Marcellus, abandoned his post and took himself off to Mytilene (in 23BC), while Maecenas betrayed a State secret to his wife Terentia, the discovery of the Murena conspiracy (also in 23BC).
He, in turn, demanded affection from his friends, and as much at their death as in life. For though he was by no means a legacy-hunter, and indeed would never accept bequests from persons unknown, yet he showed himself acutely sensitive in weighing the final utterances of his friends, not hiding his disappointment if the bequest to him was scant, or the will failed to express gratitude, nor his pleasure if he was praised and thanked with affection. Though if legacies or shares in future estates were assigned to him in the wills of high-ranking individuals with children living, he immediately resigned the gifts in favour of the children, or if they were still minors repaid the value with interest when they came of age or married.
Book Two: LXVII His Slaves and Freedmen
Augustus, while kind and merciful to his slaves and his dependants, and showing honour to many of his freedmen, including close intimates such as Licinus and Celadus, was no less strict with those who failed him. Though his slave Cosmus, who insulted him, was merely put in irons; and his steward Diomedes, who panicked and hid behind him when they were charged by a wild boar, was merely subjected to ridicule for his cowardice, despite the grave danger, since no evil had been intended; Polus, a favourite freedman, was forced to commit suicide when convicted of adultery with Roman wives; and Thallus, Augustus’ secretary, had his legs broken for taking a bribe of twenty-five gold pieces to betray the contents of a letter.
And he had the tutors and attendants on his son Gaius Caesar, who took advantage of Gaius’ illness and death to commit acts of insolence and greed in his province, thrown into a river with weights tied to their necks.
Book Two: LXVIII Accusations of Homosexuality and Effeminacy
As a youth he was reproached with various sexual improprieties. Sextus Pompey taunted him with the charge of effeminacy, while Mark Antony accused him of unnatural relations with Julius Caesar as the price of his adoption; and Lucius Antonius claimed that not only was that accusation true, but also that he had submitted to Aulus Hirtius in Spain, for three thousand gold pieces, and that he used to soften the hairs on his legs by singing them with red-hot walnut shells.
Furthermore, on one occasion in the theatre, the following line, said of a eunuch priest of Cybele striking a tambourine, was loudly applauded, as referring insultingly to Augustus:
‘See, how this sodomite’s finger rules the orb!’
Book Two: LXIX His Adulteries
Not even his friends denied he was given to adulterous behaviour, though they justified it as a matter of policy not passion, claiming he discovered his enemy’s intentions through their wives and daughters. Mark Antony accused him not only of marrying Livia with indecent haste (in 38BC), but of manoeuvring an ex-consul’s wife from the dining room to the bedroom before the man’s eyes, and returning her blushing and with her hair in disorder. He also claimed Augustus divorced Scribonia (in 39BC) because she showed resentment of a rival’s influence over him too openly; and that friends of his pandered to him, stripping wives and young women of their clothes, in the manner of Toranius, the slave-dealer, and inspecting them as though they were up for sale.
Mark Antony also wrote familiarly to Augustus, before his quarrels with him: ‘Why the change in you? Because I’m rutting with Cleopatra? She’s my ‘wife’. After nine years is it news? Do you rut only with Livia? Be hanged if, by the time you read this, you’ve not had Tertulla or Terentilla, or Rufilla, or Salvia Titisenia, or the whole lot of them together! What matter where or whom you pleasure?’
Book Two: LXX His Other Vices
Then there was a banquet of his, known as the feast of The Twelve Gods, the subject of scandalous gossip. The guests appeared dressed as deities, with Augustus as Apollo, or so Mark Antony says in a spiteful letter, naming the guests, and not forgetting those notorious, anonymous lines:
‘As soon as that banquet found its own financier,
Mallia saw six gods, and six goddesses, appear,
Impious Caesar played Apollo’s part mendaciously,
Feasting, surrounded by the gods in fresh adultery:
Then the sacred gods turned their eyes away, as one,
And even Jupiter himself forsook his golden throne.’
What made the scandal worse was the famine and hardship gripping the country at that time, and the next day there were people shouting out that the gods had eaten the grain, and that Caesar was Apollo, true, but Apollo the Tormentor, that being one name under which he was worshipped in Rome.
Augustus was reproached too for his love of expensive furniture and Corinthian bronzes, as well as his fondness for gambling. At the time of the proscriptions there was already a line scrawled on his statue:
‘Father for silver coins; I for Corinthians.’
Since it was believed he had men entered on the list of those proscribed for the sake of their Corinthian vases; and later, during the Sicilian campaign, this epigram was current:
‘Beaten once he lost his fleet, then lost his ships again,
Now he plays dice all the while, to see if he can win.’
Book Two: LXXI His Reputation
He easily refuted the accusations, or slanderous claims, however we choose to describe them, of homosexuality, by the chaste nature of his life then and later; and of an invidious love of luxury by the fact that at the taking of Alexandria (in 30BC) he appropriated none of the palace contents himself, apart from a single agate cup, but melted down all the gold articles in everyday use.
The charge of lasciviousness, however, he could not shake off, and even as an elderly man they say he still had a passion for deflowering virgin girls, who were brought to him from every quarter, even by his wife.
He never denied his reputation as a gambler, and diced freely and openly out of enjoyment for the pastime, not only in December, when the festival of Saturnalia condoned it, but on other holidays and working days too. Any doubt is removed by a letter in his handwriting, which reads: ‘I had the same company at dinner, my dear Tiberius, except that Vinicius and the elder Silius joined us. As old men do, we gambled throughout the meal, both yesterday and today. Anyone who threw the Dog (all aces) or six, put a silver piece in the pool, one for each dice, and anyone who threw Venus (all different) scooped the lot.’ And in another letter he writes: ‘We passed the Quinquatria very pleasantly, my dear Tiberius, keeping the gaming-table warm all day long. Your brother Drusus complained endlessly about his bad luck, but was hardly out of pocket at the end, losing heavily but recouping most of it bit by bit. I lost two hundred gold pieces, but only because I was as generous as ever. If I had insisted on what was owed, and kept what was really mine, I’d have won fifty thousand. Still, it’s for the best, my generosity will yield eternal glory!’ And to his daughter Julia he writes: ‘I’m sending you two and a half gold pieces in silver, which is the amount I give my guests in case they want to play dice or ‘odd and even’ at dinner.’
Book Two: LXXII His Moderate Lifestyle
As far as his other habits are concerned, Augustus is generally agreed to have been temperate and unexceptionable. His first house, once the property of Licinius Calvus the orator, was near the Forum Romanum at the top of the Ringmakers’ Stairs. Later he lived modestly on the Palatine, in what had been Hortensius’ house, not noted for its size or elegance, with its low colonnades on columns of Alban peperino stone, and its rooms devoid of marble decoration or tessellated floors. He slept in the same room there for forty years, winter and summer, though Rome’s climate in winter affected his health.
If he needed privacy, or to avoid interruption, he retreated to a room at the top of the house, that he called his Syracuse or his ‘little workshop’. He spent time there, or in one of his freedmen’s suburban villas or, if he was ill, would sleep at Maecenas’ house. Away from Rome, he mostly visited resorts by the sea, or the islands off Campania, or country towns near the City such as Lanuvium (Lanuvio), Praeneste (Palestrina) or Tibur (Tivoli) where he often administered justice under the colonnades of the Temple of Hercules.
He had no liking for grand and elaborate country houses, and one that his grand-daughter Julia built, on too lavish a scale, he had razed to the ground. His villas were modest affairs, noted not for fine statues and frescoes, but for their trees and terraces, and rare antiquities on display; for example huge bones of sea and land creatures, called ‘the bones of the Giants’, and weapons of ancient heroes, shown at Capreae (Capri).
Book Two: LXXIII His Simple Clothes and Furnishings
The simplicity of his furnishings and household possessions can be seen from those still preserved, which are barely fit for a private citizen. It is said that he always slept on a low bed with plain sheets and coverlet.
Other than on special occasions, he wore ordinary clothes made by Livia, Octavia, Julia or one of his grand-daughters; his togas were neither tight nor full, their purple stripe neither broad nor narrow, and his shoes had thick soles to enhance his height. In case of sudden and unexpected events, he would always have shoes and clothing for public wear laid out in his room.
Book Two: LXXIV His Dinner Parties
He gave formal dinner parties, at every opportunity, paying close regard to the rank and personality of his guests. Valerius Messala writes that he did once invite a freedman Menas to dine, but only after he had enrolled the man on the list of free-born citizens for delivering up Sextus Pompey’s fleet. Though Augustus says that he once entertained one of his ex-bodyguards, to whose villa he used to retreat.
He sometimes came late to his dinner parties and left early, allowing his guests to dine before he arrived, and continue after his departure. He would have a three-course dinner served, or a six-course if he felt lavish, without unnecessary extravagance, but always providing a convivial atmosphere, since he would draw the silent or soft-spoken into the general conversation, and also add music and theatricals to the proceedings, or even Circus performers, and often professional story-tellers.
Book Two: LXXV His Sense of Humour
As a rule, he celebrated festivals and holidays lavishly, but now and then his gifts were practical jokes. On the Saturnalia, for example, or whenever the mood took him, he might give clothes, or gold or silver plate; or perhaps antique or foreign coins; yet sometimes the gifts would turn out to be only haircloth, sponges, or pokers and tongs, all wrapped up, with misleading labels and enigmatic descriptions.
At dinner parties he would auction tickets for prizes varying wildly in value, such as paintings of which only the back was shown, insisting that all the guests entered a bid and took the risk of loss or gain, letting chance determine whether the result met the purchaser’s expectations or disappointed him completely.
Book Two: LXXVI His Food
Augustus was a light-eater, for I should add even this detail to my description of his domestic life, and usually his food was of the plainest. He especially liked coarse bread, fish of the smaller varieties, moist hand-pressed cheese, and green figs from the second crop, and would eat whenever and wherever he felt hungry, even before dinner. Let me quote from his letters: ‘I had a snack of bread and dates in the carriage’, and again: ‘On the way back from the Regia, in my litter, I had a morsel of bread and a few firm-skinned grapes from a bunch fit for eating’ and: ‘My dear Tiberius, not even the Jews refrain as scrupulously from food on their fast days, as I have today; I had nothing till nightfall, at the baths, two mouthfuls of bread before my massage.’
His irregular mealtimes meant that he sometimes ate alone before or after a dinner party, touching nothing while the banquet was in progress.
Book Two: LXXVII His Drink
He was also abstemious by nature in his use of wine. Cornelius Nepos writes that, during the siege of Mutina, he never took more than three glasses at dinner. Later, even when indulging freely, he never drank more than a pint of wine; or if he did deliberately vomited it.
His favourite vintage was Raetian, but he seldom drank it before dinner. Instead he would moisten his throat with a morsel of bread soaked in cold water, a slice of cucumber, a young lettuce heart, or a sour apple, fresh or dried.
Book Two: LXXVIII His Sleeping Habits
After lunch he would take a nap, just as he was, without removing his clothes or shoes, or covering his feet, and with his hand over his eyes. After dinner he retired to a couch in his study, where he stayed late, finishing all or virtually all the day’s business. Then he went to bed for at most seven hours, not sleeping continuously but waking three or four times. If he found it hard to get back to sleep, as frequently happened, he would send for readers or story-tellers, and when he finally fell asleep not wake till the sun was up. He hated to lie awake in the dark unless there was someone by his side.
He disliked early rising, though, and if some official or religious duty occasioned it, he would avoid inconvenience to himself by sleeping at some friend’s house near the appointed place. Even so, he often suffered from lack of sleep, and would nod off while being carried through the streets, or when his litter was set down because of some delay.
Book Two: LXXIX His Appearance
Augustus was exceptionally handsome and attractive at every stage of his life, though careless of his personal appearance. He cared so little about his hair, that he would have two or three barbers racing to finish it together, sometimes clipping his beard sometimes shaving him closely, while he carried on reading or writing. His expression was always so mild and serene, whether silent or in conversation, that a Gallic chieftain, who had used the pretext of seeking an audience to approach him, as he was crossing the Alps, once confessed to his countrymen that his heart had been so softened on seeing Augustus’ face that he had abandoned his original intent to push him over the cliff.
His eyes, which he liked people to think possessed divine power, were clear and bright, and it gave him great delight if whoever he gazed at keenly looked down, as if dazzled by the radiant sun. In old age, though, he had only partial vision in his left eye.
His teeth were few, small and discoloured. His hair was yellowish and rather curly, and his eyebrows met. His ears were of moderate size, his nose having a prominent bridge then curving backwards slightly lower down. He had a medium complexion, neither dark nor fair. He was short of stature, though Julius Marathus, a freedman and his keeper of the Imperial records, states that he was about five feet seven inches tall, and his lack of height was masked by the symmetry of his body and its excellent proportions, and was only evident when a taller person stood beside him.
Book Two: LXXX His Physical Blemishes and Weaknesses
His body is said to have been covered by blemishes; with birthmarks on his chest and stomach matching the prominent stars of the Great Bear in their number, pattern and relative sizes; and a number of hard dry patches resembling ringworm, caused by vigorous use of the scraper on an itching skin.
His left leg, thigh, and hip were weak, and he even limped slightly at times, though he strengthened them by walking on sand and reeds. He sometimes found the forefinger of his right hand so stiff and contracted in cold weather that he could hardly write, even with the aid of a finger-brace of horn.
He also suffered from pain in his bladder, which was relieved after passing gravel in his urine.
Book Two: LXXXI His Major Illnesses
At various times in his life, Augustus battled with severe and life-threatening illness. After the Cantabrian conquest, in particular, he was in such a desperate state from a liver abscess (in 23BC) that he was obliged to try a risky course of treatment, running counter to medical practice, his physician Antonius Musa applying hot fomentations, rather than the cold ones which had given him no relief.
He was also subject to annually recurring seasonal disorders; usually falling ill just before his birthday (in September); and in early spring with a tightness of the diaphragm; or with catarrh when the sirocco blew. In this way, his weak constitution made him unable to tolerate heat or cold.
Book Two: LXXXII His Care of His Health
In winter he wore four tunics and a heavy toga for protection, over an undershirt covering a woollen chest protector and wraps for his thighs and shins. In summer he slept with his bedroom doors open or, quite often, in the open air near a courtyard fountain, with a servant fanning him. But he could not stand even the winter sun, and always wore a broad-brimmed hat when he walked outside, even at home.
He travelled by litter, usually at night, at such an easy pace that it took two days to reach Praeneste (Palestrina) or Tibur (Tivoli). But he preferred sailing, if he could reach his destination by sea.
By taking great care he countered his many weaknesses, especially by caution in bathing, generally making do with an oil rub or a sweat-bath by a fire, followed by a douche with warm water, or water with the chill taken off after standing a long time in the sun. However, when he eased his rheumatism with a hot brine or Albulan sulphur bath, he simply sat on a wooden bath-seat, calling it by the Spanish name dureta, alternately bathing his hands and feet in the water.
Book Two: LXXXIII His Exercise and Diversions
Once the Civil Wars were over, Augustus gave up his armed riding exercises in the Campus Martius, at first playing catch or hand-ball, but after a while contenting himself with riding, or after a walk, wrapped in a cloak or blanket, with sprinting and leaping.
For diversion, he went fishing; or he played at dice, or marbles, or casting nuts with a gang of little boys, and was always on the lookout for those, especially the Syrians and Moors, with attractive faces or pleasing chatter, loathing the dwarfish or disabled, and considering such individuals as freaks of nature and creatures of ill omen.
Book Two: LXXXIV His Oratory
From boyhood, Augustus was an eager and diligent devotee of rhetoric and liberal studies. Despite the pressure of events during the Mutina campaign, it is said that he still read, wrote and declaimed every day. Though he had no lack of skill in impromptu oratory, he never addressed the Senate in later life, without a pre-prepared written speech in his hand. And to avoid the time wasted in committing his speeches to memory, or the risk of forgetting what he wished to say, he took to reading them verbatim.
He even drafted the more important of his statements to individuals and even his wife Livia in a notebook, then read them aloud, haunted by the fear of saying too much or too little if he spoke extempore.
He had a pleasant and individual manner of speaking, constantly practising guided by a teacher of elocution, but when his throat was affected he addressed the audience through a herald.
Book Two: LXXXV His Writings
He wrote numerous works in prose on a variety of topics, some of which he read aloud to a group of close friends, as though in a lecture-hall, for instance his Reply to Brutus’ Eulogy of Cato. On that occasion, however, being quite elderly, he tired before reaching the end, and handed the last roll to Tiberius to complete the reading.
He also wrote Exhortations to Philosophy, and thirteen books of An Account of His Life, though taking the work only as far as the period of the Cantabrian War. His efforts at poetry were slight, but one set of hexameters on Sicily is extant, and a series of Epigrams mostly composed at the Baths.
He did begin a tragedy, with great enthusiasm, but destroyed it, dissatisfied with its defects of style, and when friends asked what had become of Ajax, he replied that Ajax had ‘fallen on his sponge’.
Book Two: LXXXVI His Style of Speech
He cultivated a sober but elegant style of speech, avoiding vain sententiousness, rhetorical rhythm, and the ‘odour’ as he puts it ‘ of recondite phrases’; making it his main aim to express his thoughts as clearly as possible. And therefore, to prevent his readers halting in confusion at any stage, he had no hesitation in adding prepositions like to or in to the names of cities, or in repeating conjunctions several times when once might have been neater but might also have created ambiguity.
He was contemptuous of both innovators and archaizers, as equally wrong but in opposite ways, and sometimes poured scorn on them, especially Maecenas, whose ‘myrrh-besprinkled curlicues’ as he had it, he belaboured and parodied in jest. Even Tiberius was not spared, for his habit of hunting out obscure and obsolete expressions. And he reproaches Mark Antony for acting like a madman, in writing so that men might admire him, rather than understand him. He goes on to ridicule Antony’s odd and inconsistent taste in choosing a speaking style, adding: ‘Can you seriously consider imitating Annius Cimber or Veranius Flaccus, and go using those ancient words Sallust gleaned from the Elder Cato’s Origines? Or perhaps you aim to fill our speech with the verbose and meaningless fluency of Asiatic orators?’ And in a letter praising his granddaughter Agrippina the Elder’s accomplishments, he writes: ‘But take great care not to write and talk affectedly.’
Book Two: LXXXVII His Favourite Words and Phrases
In everyday speech, he frequently used notable expressions of his own, as revealed in letters in his own hand, in which for example he says, now and then, of certain individuals that ‘they will pay on the Greek Kalends’ meaning ‘never’. Urging someone to accept things as they are, he writes: ‘Let us be content with our Cato; and to express the speed of a hasty action: ‘Quicker than boiled asparagus.’
He liked to employ baceolus (pea-brain), for stultus (fool); pulleiaceus (darkish) for pullus (dark); vacerrosus (empty-headed) for cerritus (mad); vapide se habere (feeling flat) for male se habere (feeling bad); and betizare (like a beetroot) for languere (weak) the vulgar equivalent being lachanizare. He also used simus for sumus (we are), and domos instead of domuos for the genitive singular of domus (house), invariably writing these forms lest they be thought errors rather than a custom of his.
I also note this peculiarity in his manner of writing: rather than break a word at the end of a line, and carry over the remaining letters to the next, he writes them below the start of the word and draws a connecting loop round them.
Book Two: LXXXVIII His Orthography and Cipher Key
He does not comply with the strict rules of orthography, the formal system of spelling, that is, laid down by the grammarians, but seems to follow the lead of those who think we should spell as we speak. Of course he made the kinds of error common to us all, frequently transposing or omitting syllables, and I would not have mentioned the fact, except that I was surprised to find it said of him that he forced a consular governor to retire for being as ignorant and uneducated as to write ixi for ipsi (themselves).
When Augustus wrote in code he used a substitution cipher, replacing each letter with the next in the Latin alphabet, writing AA for the last letter, X.
Book Two: LXXXIX His Interest in Literature
He was as interested in Greek works as Latin, and excelled in his studies of both. His tutor was Apollodorus of Pergamon, who accompanied him to Apollonia in his youth, though Apollodorus was by then quite aged. Later Augustus extended his knowledge of various fields, studying under the philosopher Areus and his sons Dionysius and Nicanor. However he never wrote or spoke Greek fluently, and if he had to compose anything in that language, he drafted it in Latin, and passed it to a translator. He was far from being ignorant of Greek poetry, though, greatly enjoying the Old Comedy, and frequently staging the plays during his public shows.
When reading works in both languages, he was assiduous in collecting moral precepts and anecdotes, for public or private instruction; he would often transcribe them word for word, and send them to members of his household, or to his generals and provincial governors, or to the city magistrates, whenever they required admonishing. He even read whole texts aloud to the Senate, and often commended them to the people by proclamation, for example the speech of Quintus Caecilius Metellus On Increasing the Population, and that of Rutilius Rufus ‘On the Height of Buildings’, in order to make it clear that these were not simply matters of fresh interest to him, but had aroused the attention of earlier generations.
He fostered the talents of his own age, in every way, listening to their readings of poetry and history, and to speeches and dialogues too, courteously and patiently. But he objected to being written about himself, except by serious and respected authors, often warning the praetors not to allow his name to be mentioned in prize orations.
Book Two: XC His Superstition Regarding Lightning
Regarding his attitude to religious omens, we are told that he was somewhat nervous of thunder and lightning, and always carried a seal-skin amulet for protection. At the first sign of an approaching storm, he would always take refuge in an underground vault, having once had a fright, as I have mentioned previously, when he narrowly escaped a lightning bolt during a night march.
Book Two: XCI His Attitude to Dreams
He never ignored his dreams, or those of others that concerned him. At Philippi, he had decided to keep to his tent because of illness, but was persuaded not to do so, warned by a friend’s dream. And most fortunate it proved too, since the enemy took the camp, broke into his tent, and stabbed his bed through and through, thinking at first that he was still lying there, ripping it to pieces.
Every spring he had numerous nightmares, which were empty and without consequence, while at other times of year his dreams were infrequent but less idle.
He dreamed that Capitoline Jupiter was unhappy about his constant visits to the new temple of Jupiter the Thunderer which he had founded on the hill, because traditional worshippers were being stolen from him, and he had replied in dream that he had placed the Thunderer close by as Capitoline Jupiter’s doorkeeper. This prompted him to hang bells from the gable of the new shrine, as if it were a house-door.
Another dream led to his begging alms on a given day each year, holding his open palm out for the passers-by to give him pennies.
Book Two: XCII His Regard for Certain Omens
Certain omens and auspices he considered infallible, for instance if he put his right foot into his left shoe in the morning he took it as a bad sign. He thought a shower of light rain when he was starting on a long land or sea trip, a good omen, indicating a speedy and successful return.
He was particularly influenced by prodigious events. When a palm tree sprang out of a crevice in the pavement in front of his house, he had the shoot transplanted to the inner courtyard close to the household gods, and nurtured its growth. And he was so delighted, when arriving on Capreae (Capri), that the branches of an old oak-tree which had drooped and withered were reinvigorated, that he arranged, with Naples, an exchange of the island for that of Aenaria (Ischia, in 6AD).
Certain days were sacrosanct too, and he refused to travel on the day after a market-day, or to carry out any important business on the Nones, though in the latter case, as he wrote to Tiberius, he merely dreaded the negative sound of the name.
Book Two: XCIII His Respect for Certain Foreign Religions
He showed great respect for foreign rites which were both ancient, and previously known to him, but despised the rest. An example of his attitude to the former occurred after his initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries at Athens. He was hearing a case in Rome, involving the privileges due to the priests of Demeter, the Attic Ceres, and when the discussion of certain religious secrets was required, he, cleared the court, dismissed his legal advisors, and resolved the dispute in private. As an example of his attitude to the latter, however, he refused to go out of his way to visit the Apis bull during his sojourn in Egypt, and praised his grandson Gaius Caesar highly for not offering prayers at the Temple in Jerusalem, when passing by Judaea.
Book Two: XCIV Omens of Destiny
At this point, it is appropriate to describe the various omens, presaging his future greatness and continuous good fortune, which occurred before his birth, on the very day of his birth, and thereafter.
When, in ancient times, a part of the city wall at Velitrae (Velletri) was struck by lightning, it was prophesied that a citizen of the place would one day rule the world. Such was their confidence in the prediction, that the people of Velitrae immediately declared war on the Romans, and fought many subsequent wars against Rome, until they themselves were almost obliterated. Centuries later, events proved the validity of the omen, and that it had foretold the rise of Augustus.
According to Julius Marathus, a portent was widely observed in Rome, a few months before Augustus’ birth, indicating that Nature was about to produce a king once more for the Roman people. The Senate were so concerned they decreed that no male child born that year should be reared; but a group of Senators with pregnant wives, each hoping for a son to fulfil the prediction, prevented the decree being filed in the Treasury and becoming law.
I have read this tale too, in the Theologumena, the Discourses on the Gods, of Asclepiades of Mendes. Augustus’ mother, Atia, with a group of married women, was attending a solemn midnight service in the Temple of Apollo and, once her litter had been set down, she settled to sleep with the rest. Suddenly a serpent appeared, insinuated itself into her, and after a while slithered away. On waking, she purified herself, as if after intimacy with her husband, and at once an indelible mark, like the serpent and with its colouring, showed on her body, such that afterwards she always avoided public bathing. Augustus was born nine months later and regarded as the son of the god, a child of Apollo. Also, Atia dreamed before the birth that her innards were borne upwards to the stars and there spread over all the land and sea, while Octavius, his father, dreamed that the sun rose from Atia’s womb.
Augustus was born on the day the Catiline Conspiracy was debated in the House (23rd September, 63BC), his father Octavius arriving late due to the birth. It was then, as everyone knows, that Publius Nigidius Figulus, the astrologer, learning why he was late and the natal hour, declared that a ruler of the world was born. And later, when Octavius, his father, was leading a military expedition in Thrace, he consulted the priests of the grove of Father Liber (Dionysus), and their barbaric rites confirmed the prophecy, since a column of flame rose from the wine poured over the altar, and lifted far above the roof of the shrine, to the highest heavens. Such an omen had only been seen once before, when Alexander the Great sacrificed at that very altar. While, that night, Octavius dreamed that his son appeared in superhuman guise, armed with the lightning bolt, ornaments and sceptre of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, crowned with a solar diadem, riding a chariot wreathed in laurels, drawn by twelve pure white horses.
Gaius Drusus records that the infant Augustus (Octavius, as he was then) whom his nurse had settled in his cradle on the ground floor one evening, was not there at dawn, and was found only after a long search, lying on the summit of a tower, his face turned towards the rising sun.
When he was learning to talk, he ordered the frogs croaking loudly in a pool on his grandfather’s estate, to be silent, and they say no frog has ever croaked there since. And later, as he sat eating his lunch, one day, in a copse by the Appian Way’s fourth milestone, an eagle swooped down, to his surprise, and snatched the bread from his hand, then after soaring to a great height flew smoothly down again, and returned it to him.
It is said that, a few years after Quintus Catulus Capitolinus re-dedicated the Capitol (in 65BC), he had two dreams on successive nights; in the first he dreamed that Jupiter Optimus Maximus called aside one of a group of noblemen’s sons who were playing near the altar, and slipped the image of the Goddess Roma he held in his hand into a fold of the boy’s gown. On the second night, Catulus dreamed he saw the same lad sitting in the lap of Capitoline Jupiter and that when he ordered him to be removed the god countermanded him, warning him that the boy was being reared to be Rome’s saviour, and on the very next day, Catulus was shown the infant Augustus, whom he had never seen before, gazed at him in surprise, and declared he was very like the boy in his dream.
Some give a different account of Catulus’ first dream, saying that a throng of noblemen’s children asked Jupiter for someone to be their protector, and he pointed to one of them, to whom they should direct their requests, then touched the boy’s mouth with his fingers and laid them on his own lips.
One New Year’s Day, when Cicero was escorting Julius Caesar, as consul, to the Capitol, he told his friends of a dream the previous night, in which a boy with noble features was lowered from heaven on a golden chain, stood at the Temple door and was handed a whip by Capitoline Jupiter. At that moment, he caught sight of Augustus, who had been brought to the ceremony by his great-uncle, Caesar, and was still unknown to most there, and declared that this was the very boy from his dream.
At his coming of age ceremony, the seams of Augustus’ senatorial toga, which Caesar had allowed him to wear, parted on both sides, and the gown fell at his feet. This was interpreted as an infallible sign that the Senatorial Order itself would one day be subject to him.
While Caesar was clearing a site for his camp at Munda (45BC), a palm tree was found in a grove that was being felled, which he took as an omen of victory. The tree was spared and put out a new shoot which a few days later was taller than its parent, overshadowing it. Not only that, but doves began to build a nest there, though the species particularly avoids hard, spiny foliage. This prodigy it was, they say, that led Caesar to decide on his younger sister Julia’s grandson (Augustus) as his successor.
When he was studying in Apollonia (45/44BC) Augustus climbed one day to the astrologer Theogenes’s observatory. Agrippa was with him, and was the first to have his stars read. When a marvellous career was predicted for Agrippa, Augustus lost confidence, fearing that his own chart would prove less auspicious, and he persistently refused to divulge the precise hour of his birth. When he finally agreed, unwillingly, and after much hesitation, Theogenes, having cast the horoscope, rose and threw himself down at Augustus’ feet. Thereafter Augustus was so convinced of his destiny, that he made the results public, and had a silver coin struck stamped with the constellation Capricorn, the (lunar) sign under which he was born.
Book Two: XCV Omens of Imminent Power
On his return from Apollonia (44BC), after Caesar’s assassination, a halo formed around the sun’s disc as he entered the City, even though the sky seemed bright and cloudless, and suddenly a lightning-bolt struck the tomb of Caesar’s daughter Julia.
And again, as he was taking the auspices in his first consulship, twelve vultures were seen, the same sign that appeared to Romulus, and the livers of the sacrificial victims were doubled inwards at the lower end, an omen that the soothsayers skilled in such things unanimously proclaimed as the sign of a great and fortunate future.
Book Two: XCVI Omens of Victory in War
Augustus had presentiments of the outcome of all his campaigns. When the Triumvirs were gathered at Bononia (in 43BC), an eagle perched on Augustus’ tent, defended itself against two ravens which attacked it from either side, and dashed them to the ground. The whole army concluded that discord would arise between the three leaders, as it in fact did, and also divined its result.
While he was travelling to Philippi (in 42BC), a Thessalian stopped him to prophesy his imminent victory, having been so assured by Caesar’s ghost, which he had encountered on an isolated track.
When he was making an offering before the walls of Perusia (41/40BC), and failing to obtain a favourable omen, had sent for more sacrificial victims, the enemy made a sudden sortie and carried off all the religious trappings. The soothsayers prophesied from this that any danger or threat of disaster to Augustus would fall on the heads of those who now possessed the entrails, and so it proved.
On the eve of the naval battle off Sicily (in 36BC), as he was walking along the shore, a fish leapt from the sea and fell at his feet.
And at Actium (in 31BC), as he was about to board ship and give the signal for battle, he met a man driving an ass, his name being Eutychus (Prosper) and the beast Nicon (Victor). To commemorate the victory, Augustus set up bronze statues of the two, inside the camp site which was dedicated as a sacred enclosure.
Book Two: XCVII Omens of Death
His death, which I shall speak of next, and his subsequent deification were also presaged by unmistakable omens.
As he was ending the lustrum (on May 11, 14AD) in the Campus Martius, that being the sacrifice of purification made every five years after a census, and in front of a vast crowd, an eagle flew round him several times and flying to the temple nearby perched above the first letter, ‘A’, of Agrippa’s name. Seeing this, Augustus asked Tiberius, his colleague in the Censorship, to recite the quinquennial vows since, despite having composed them and written them on a tablet, he ought not to take responsibility for vows he could not pay. At about the same time, a lightning bolt melted the initial letter, ‘C’, of Caesar from an inscription below one of his statues. This was taken to mean that he had only a hundred days to live, C being the Roman numeral signifying a hundred, but that he would be counted among the gods, since the remaining letters ‘aesar’ meant ‘god’ in Etruscan.
Again, detained by litigants pleading case after case, when he was on the point of setting out to accompany Tiberius whom he had ordered to Illyricum, as far as Beneventum (Benevento), he cried out that he would no longer remain in Rome, no matter who delayed him, and this was regarded later as a further omen of his death. Setting off, they reached Astura (Torre Astura), where a favourable breeze persuaded him, contrary to his usual custom, to take ship that night, and he caught a chill, diarrhoea being its first symptom.
Book Two: XCVIII His Last Days
After sailing south along the shores of Campania, with its coastal islands, he spent the next four days at his villa on Capreae (Capri) enjoying a complete rest amidst all kinds of pleasant diversion.
He had sailed there through the Gulf of Puteoli (Pozzuoli), where the passengers and crew of an Alexandrian ship, which had not long arrived, lauded him highly and lavished good wishes on him. Dressed in white robes, and crowned with garlands, they had burned incense, calling out that they owed him their livelihoods, the freedom of the seas, their very lives.
Delighted by this show of affection, Augustus gave each of his retinue forty gold pieces, making them promise under oath to spend it all on Alexandrian wares. Moreover he distributed presents of various kinds, during his few remaining days on Capreae, including, among his many small gifts, Roman togas and Greek cloaks, and insisting the Romans among his company dressed as Greeks and spoke their language, while the Greeks dressed as Romans and spoke Latin. He spent many hours, too, watching the groups of ephebi (youths over eighteen years of age but not yet full citizens) practising their gymnastics, Capraea still nurturing the ancient Greek traditions. And he even gave a banquet for them, at which he presided, where he not only allowed but encouraged their jokes and set them scrambling for tokens he scattered, granting the holder fruit, delicacies and the like. Indeed, he indulged in every kind of enjoyment.
He dubbed an islet off Capreae, Apragopolis, the Land of Idlers, because some of his staff, who spent time there, were so lazy, and referred to a previous favourite, Masgaba, who had died there the previous year, as Ktistes, meaning its founder. On seeing, from his dining room, a large crowd, carrying torches, visiting Masgaba’s tomb, he improvised and declaimed this line of verse:
‘The Founder’s tomb I see ablaze with fire…’
‘See how, with lights, Magasba’s honoured now!’
He asked his opinion of this one too, and when Thrasyllus dared only venture that they were very good, whoever composed them, he burst out laughing, and poked fun at him, gleefully.
Eventually he crossed the bay to Naples, even though he was still weak from intermittent bowel problems. He first attended an athletic and gymnastic competition, held every five years in his honour, and then went on to Beneventum, where he parted from Tiberius. But on the return journey his illness grew worse, and at Nola he took to his bed, sending messengers to Tiberius forestalling his passage to Illyricum, and summoning him to return. He spent hours with Tiberius, on his arrival, in private conversation, after which he no longer gave attention to State affairs.
Book Two: XCIX His Death
On the day of his death, after asking repeatedly whether there were any disturbances in Rome as a result of his illness, he called for a mirror, and had his hair combed, and his slack lower jaw manipulated into place. Then he called in his friends, and asked them whether they felt he had played his part in life’s farce well, adding the theatrical tag:
‘Please clap your hands, if I have given cause,
And send me from the stage with your applause.’
Then he dismissed them. Though, when visitors arrived, fresh from Rome, he asked about Drusus the Younger’s daughter, Julia, who was ill. The last words he spoke were to his wife: ‘Livia, keep the memory of our marriage alive, and farewell!’ and died the very moment he was kissing her. So he was blessed with an easy death, such as he always desired. For whenever he heard of someone dying swiftly and painlessly, he always prayed for such a euthanasia – that was the term he used – for himself and his family, when their turn came.
He had only given one sign, before he died, that his mind was wandering, and that was a sudden cry of terror, calling out that forty youths were carrying him off. But even this was a prophecy rather than a delusion, since that same number of praetorian guards did indeed accompany his body to its lying-in-state.
Book Two: C His Funeral
He died at about 3pm on August the 19th, 14AD, thirty-five days before his seventy-sixth birthday, during the consulships of Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius, in the same room as his father Octavius.
His body was carried all the way from Nola to Bovillae by senators of the local municipalities and colonies, at night due to the hot weather, setting it down in the town hall or principal temple at each resting place. Members of the Equestrian Order assembled at Bovillae to carry it onwards to Rome, where it was placed in the vestibule of his house.
The Senators vied with one another in their wish to enhance the magnificence of his funeral and honour his memory. Among the suggestions offered was a proposal that his funeral procession should pass through a triumphal gate, preceded by the Statue of Victory from the Senate House, and that the boys and girls of the nobility should sing the dirge. Further, that on the day of his cremation, iron rings should be worn instead of gold, and that his ashes should be collected by the priests of the leading colleges.
One Senator proposed that since Augustus began his life in September, and it ended in August, the name of the latter month should be transferred to the former. Another, that the whole period his life covered, from birth to death, should be called the Augustan Age, and so entered in the Calendar.
Though the honours paid to him were not excessive, two funeral eulogies were delivered, one by Tiberius in front of the Temple to the God Julius, the second by Drusus the Younger, Tiberius’ son, from the old Rostra. Groups of Senators then carried the body on their shoulders to the Campus Martius where it was cremated. One ex-praetor swore under oath that he had seen the Emperor’s form soar to the heavens, even though the body had been reduced to ashes.
The leaders of the Equestrian Order, barefoot and in loose tunics, gathered up the remains and placed them in the family Mauseoleum. He had initiated the building of this, between the Via Flaminia and the Tiber, during his sixth consulship (in 28BC). At the same time an area of groves and walks around it were opened as a public park.
Book Two: CI His Will
He had made a will on the 3rd of April in the previous year (AD13) when Lucius Munatius Plancus and Gaius Silius were consuls, a year and four months, that is, before he died. It occupied two note-books written partly in his own hand and partly by Polybius and Hilarion his freedmen. The Vestal Virgins, its custodian, now produced the notebooks and three scrolls, sealed in the same manner. All were opened and read to the House.
Augustus had appointed Tiberius and Livia heirs to the bulk of his estate; Tiberius to receive two thirds and adopt the name ‘Augustus’; Livia to inherit the remaining third and adopt the name ‘Augusta’. The heirs in the second degree (who inherited in the event of a main heir’s death or their refusal of the legacy) were Tiberius’ son, Drusus the Younger, who was entitled to a third of the reversion, and Germanicus and his three sons, who were jointly entitled to the remainder. Many of his other relatives and his friends were mentioned as heirs in the third degree.
He also left four hundred thousand gold pieces to the Roman people, thirty-five thousand to the two tribes with which he was connected, ten gold pieces to every praetorian guardsman, five to every one of the city cohorts, and three to every legionary. These he requested to be paid at once, out of an amount set aside for the purpose. He left other bequests to various individuals, some as much as two hundred gold pieces; the payment to be deferred for a year because of the limited value of his estate. He declared that his heirs would receive only one and a half million gold pieces, because he had spent not only the fourteen million or so bequeathed to him by friends over the previous twenty years, but all his legacy from his father Octavius, and his adoptive father Caesar, for the benefit of the State.
He commanded that his daughter Julia the Elder, and his granddaughter, Julia the Younger should have no place in his Mausoleum on their death. Of the three sealed scrolls, one gave directions for his funeral; the second was an account of his achievements, to be engraved on bronze and erected at the entrance to the Mausoleum; and the third was a summary of the state of the Empire, giving the number of serving troops, the value of the reserves in the Treasury and Privy Purse, and the revenues due to the State.
He added, as well, the names of his secretaries, freedmen and slaves, from whom the details could be obtained.
End of Book II