Augustus - Death, Succession and Legacy

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

The illness of Augustus in 23 BC brought the problem of succession to the forefront of political issues and the public.
To ensure stability, he needed to designate an heir to his unique position in Roman society and government.
This was to be achieved in small, undramatic, and incremental ways that did not stir senatorial fears of monarchy.
If someone was to succeed Augustus' unofficial position of power, he would have to earn it through his own publicly proven merits.
After the death of Marcellus in 23 BC, Augustus married his daughter to Agrippa.
This union produced five children, three sons and two daughters: Gaius Caesar, Lucius Caesar, Vipsania Julia, Agrippina the Elder, and Postumus Agrippa, so named because he was born after Marcus Agrippa died.
Shortly after the Second Settlement, Agrippa was granted a five-year term of administering the eastern half of the Empire with the imperium of a proconsul and the same tribunicia potestas granted to Augustus (although not trumping Augustus' authority), his seat of governance stationed at Samos in the eastern Aegean.
This granting of power showed Augustus' favor for Agrippa, but it was also a measure to please members of his Caesarian party by allowing one of their members to share a considerable amount of power with him.
Augustus' intent became apparent to make Gaius and Lucius Caesar his heirs when he adopted them as his own children.
He took the consulship in 5 and 2 BC so that he could personally usher them into their political careers, and they were nominated for the consulships of AD 1 and 4.
Augustus also showed favor to his stepsons, Livia's children from her first marriage Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus (henceforth referred to as Drusus), and Tiberius Claudius (henceforth Tiberius), granting them military commands and public office, though seeming to favor Drusus.
After Agrippa died in 12 BC, Tiberius was ordered to divorce his own wife Vipsania and marry Agrippa's widow, Augustus' daughter Julia - as soon as a period of mourning for Agrippa had ended.
Drusus' marriage to Antonia was considered an unbreakable affair, whereas Vipsania was "only" the daughter of the late Agrippa from his first marriage.
Tiberius shared in Augustus' tribune powers as of 6 BC, but shortly thereafter went into retirement, reportedly wanting no further role in politics while he exiled himself to Rhodes.
No specific reason is known for his departure, though it could have been a combination of reasons, including a failing marriage with Julia, as well as a sense of envy and exclusion over Augustus' apparent favoring of his young grandchildren-turned-sons Gaius and Lucius.
(Gaius and Lucius joined the college of priests at an early age, were presented to spectators in a more favorable light, and were introduced to the army in Gaul.)

After the early deaths of both Lucius and Gaius, in AD 2 and 4 respectively, and the earlier death of his brother Drusus (9 BC), Tiberius was recalled to Rome in June AD 4, where he was adopted by Augustus on the condition that he, in turn, adopt his nephew Germanicus.
This continued the tradition of presenting at least two generations of heirs.
In that year, Tiberius was also granted the powers of a tribune and proconsul, emissaries from foreign kings had to pay their respects to him, and by AD 13 was awarded with his second triumph and equal level of imperium with that of Augustus.
The only other possible claimant as heir was Postumus Agrippa, who had been exiled by Augustus in AD 7, his banishment made permanent by senatorial decree, and Augustus officially disowned him.
He certainly fell out of Augustus' favor as an heir;  - Postumus Agrippa was a "vulgar young man, brutal and brutish, and of depraved character".
Postumus Agrippa was murdered at his place of exile, either shortly before or after the death of Augustus.


On 19 August AD 14, Augustus died while visiting Nola, where his father had died.
Both Tacitus and Cassius Dio wrote that Livia was rumored to have brought about Augustus' death by poisoning fresh figs, however, it is likely to have been a salacious fabrication, made by those who had favored Postumus as heir, or other of Tiberius' political enemies.
Livia had long been the target of similar rumors of poisoning on the behalf of her son, most or all of which are unlikely to have been true.
Alternatively, it is possible that Livia did supply a poisoned fig (she did cultivate a variety of fig named for her that Augustus is said to have enjoyed), but did so as a means of assisted suicide rather than murder.
Augustus' health had been in decline in the months immediately before his death, and he had made significant preparations for a smooth transition in power, having at last reluctantly settled on Tiberius as his choice of heir.
It is likely that Augustus was not expected to return alive from Nola, but it seems that his health improved once there; it has therefore been speculated that Augustus and Livia conspired to end his life at the anticipated time, having committed all political process to accepting Tiberius, in order to not endanger that transition.
Livia Drusilla (LIVIA•DRVSILLA, LIVIA•AVGVSTA) (30 January 58 BC– 28 September AD 29), also known as Julia Augusta after her formal adoption into the Julian family in AD 14, was the wife of the Roman emperor Augustus throughout his reign, as well as his adviser. She was the mother of the emperor Tiberius, paternal grandmother of the emperor Claudius, paternal great-grandmother of the emperor Caligula, and maternal great-great-grandmother of the emperor Nero. She was deified by Claudius who acknowledged her title of Augusta.
Augustus' famous last words were, "Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit" - referring to the play-acting and regal authority that he had put on as emperor.
Publicly, though, his last words were, "Behold, I found Rome of clay, and leave her to you of marble."
An enormous funerary procession of mourners traveled with Augustus' body from Nola to Rome, and on the day of his burial all public and private businesses closed for the day.
Tiberius and his son Drusus delivered the eulogy while standing atop two rostra.
Augustus' body was cremated on a pyre close to his mausoleum.
It was proclaimed that Augustus joined the company of the gods as a member of the Roman pantheon.
Augustus' policy of favoring the Julian family line over the Claudian might have afforded Tiberius sufficient cause to show open disdain for Augustus after the latter's death; instead, Tiberius was always quick to rebuke those who criticized Augustus.
Augustus' deification obliged Tiberius to suppress any open resentment that he might have harbored, coupled with Tiberius' "extremely conservative" attitude towards religion.
Letters of Augustus to Tiberius display affection towards Tiberius and high regard for his military merits.
Tiberius probably focused his anger and criticism on Gaius Asinius Gallus (for marrying Vipsania after Augustus forced Tiberius to divorce her), as well as toward the two young Caesars, Gaius and Lucius - instead of Augustus, the real architect of his divorce and imperial demotion.


Augustus' reign laid the foundations of a regime that lasted, in one form or another, for nearly fifteen hundred years through the ultimate decline of the Western Roman Empire and until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.
Both his adoptive surname, Caesar, and his title Augustus became the permanent titles of the rulers of the Roman Empire for fourteen centuries after his death, in use both at Old Rome and at New Rome.
In many languages, Caesar became the word for Emperor, as in the German Kaiser and in the Bulgarian and subsequently Russian Tsar.
The cult of 'Divus Augustus' (Augustus the God) continued until the state religion of the Empire was changed to Christianity in 391.
He had composed an account of his achievements, the 'Res Gestae Divi Augusti', to be inscribed in bronze in front of his mausoleum.
Copies of the text were inscribed throughout the Empire upon his death.
The inscriptions in Latin featured translations in Greek beside it, and were inscribed on many public edifices.
There are a few known written works by Augustus that have survived such as his poems 'Sicily', 'Epiphanus', and 'Ajax', an autobiography of 13 books, a philosophical treatise, and his written rebuttal to Brutus' Eulogy of Cato.
Historians are able to analyze existing letters penned by Augustus to others for additional facts or clues about his personal life.
Undoubtedly Augustus was Rome's greatest emperor; and his policies extended the Empire's life span, and initiated the celebrated Pax Romana or Pax Augusta.
Augustus was intelligent, decisive, and a shrewd politician, but he was not perhaps as charismatic as Julius Caesar, and was influenced on occasion by his third wife, Livia (sometimes for the worse).
Nevertheless, his legacy proved more enduring.
The city of Rome was utterly transformed under Augustus, with Rome's first institutionalized police force, fire fighting force, and the establishment of the municipal prefect as a permanent office.
The police force was divided into cohorts of 500 men each, while the units of firemen ranged from 500 to 1,000 men each, with 7 units assigned to 14 divided city sectors.
A praefectus vigilum, or "Prefect of the Watch" was put in charge of the vigiles, Rome's fire brigade and police.

Rome's Standing Army
With Rome's civil wars at an end, Augustus was also able to create a standing army for the Roman Empire, fixed at a size of 28 legions of about 170,000 soldiers.
This was supported by numerous auxiliary units of 500 soldiers each, often recruited from recently conquered areas.
With his finances securing the maintenance of roads throughout Italy, Augustus also installed an official courier system of relay stations overseen by a military officer known as the praefectus vehiculorum.
Besides the advent of swifter communication among Italian polities, his extensive building of roads throughout Italy also allowed Rome's armies to march swiftly and at an unprecedented pace across the country.
In the year 6 Augustus established the aerarium militare, donating 170 million sesterces to the new military treasury that provided for both active and retired soldiers.

Praetorian Guard
One of the most enduring, (and probably ill-advised), institutions of Augustus was the establishment of the Praetorian Guard in 27 BC, originally a personal bodyguard unit on the battlefield that evolved into an imperial guard as well as an important political force in Rome.
They had the power to intimidate the Senate, install new emperors, and depose ones they disliked.
Although the most powerful individual in the Roman Empire, Augustus wished to embody the spirit of Republican virtues and norms ('back to basics' - 'traditional values').
He also wanted to relate to, and connect with the concerns of the plebs and lay people.
He achieved this through various means of generosity and a cutting back of lavish excess.
In the year 29 BC, Augustus paid 400 sesterces each to 250,000 citizens, 1,000 sesterces each to 120,000 veterans in the colonies, and spent 700 million sesterces in purchasing land for his soldiers to settle upon.
He also restored 82 different temples, to display his care for the Roman pantheon of deities.
In 28 BC, he melted down 80 silver statues erected in his likeness and in honor of him, an attempt of his to appear frugal and modest.
The longevity of Augustus' reign, and its legacy to the Roman world should not be overlooked as a key factor in its success.
Tacitus wrote, the younger generations alive in AD 14 had never known any form of government other than the Principate.
Had Augustus died earlier (in 23 BC, for instance), matters might have turned out differently.
The attrition of the civil wars on the old Republican oligarchy, and the longevity of Augustus, therefore, must be seen as major contributing factors in the transformation of the Roman state into a 'de facto' monarchy in these years.
Augustus' own experience, his patience, his tact, and his political acumen also played their parts.
He directed the future of the Empire down many lasting paths, from the existence of a standing professional army, stationed at or near the frontiers, to the dynastic principle so often employed in the imperial succession, to the embellishment of the capital at the emperor's expense.
Augustus' ultimate legacy was the peace and prosperity the Empire enjoyed for the next two centuries under the system he initiated.
His memory was enshrined in the political ethos of the Imperial age, as a paradigm of the good emperor.
Every Emperor of Rome adopted his name, Caesar Augustus, which gradually lost its character as a name and eventually became a title.
The Augustan era poets Virgil and Horace praised Augustus as a defender of Rome, an upholder of moral justice, and an individual who bore the brunt of responsibility in maintaining the empire.


On his deathbed, Augustus boasted "I found a Rome of bricks; I leave to you one of marble."
Although there is some truth in the literal meaning of this, Cassius Dio asserts that it was a metaphor for the Empire's strength.
Marble could be found in buildings of Rome before Augustus, but it was not extensively used as a building material until the reign of Augustus.

Ara Pacis
Although this did not apply to the Subura slums, which were still as rickety and fire-prone as ever, he did leave a mark on the monumental topography of the centre and of the Campus Martius, with the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace) and monumental sundial, whose central gnomon was an obelisk taken from Egypt.

Sculpture from the Ara Pacis
The relief sculptures decorating the Ara Pacis visually augmented the written record of Augustus' triumphs in the 'Res Gestae'.
Its reliefs depicted the imperial pageants of the praetorians, the Vestals, and the citizenry of Rome.

Temple of Mars Ultor
He also built the Temple of Caesar, the Baths of Agrippa, and the Forum of Augustus with its Temple of Mars Ultor.
Other projects were either encouraged by him, such as the Theatre of Balbus, and Agrippa's construction of the Pantheon, or funded by him in the name of others, often relations (e.g. Portico of Octavia, Theatre of Marcellus).
Mausoleum of Augustus

Even his Mausoleum of Augustus was built before his death to house members of his family.
To celebrate his victory at the Battle of Actium, the Arch of Augustus was built in 29 BC near the entrance of the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and widened in 19 BC to include a triple-arch design.
Arch of Augustus
There are also many buildings outside of the city of Rome that bear Augustus' name and legacy, such as the Theatre of Mérida in modern Spain, the Maison Carrée built at Nîmes in today's southern France, as well as the Trophy of Augustus at La Turbie, located near Monaco.
The Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne, late 1st century BC
After the death of Agrippa in 12 BC, a solution had to be found in maintaining Rome's water supply system.
This came about because it was overseen by Agrippa when he served as aedile, and was even funded by him afterwards when he was a private citizen paying at his own expense.
In that year, Augustus arranged a system where the Senate designated three of its members as prime commissioners in charge of the water supply and to ensure that Rome's aqueducts did not fall into disrepair.

Corinthian Order
In the late Augustan era, the commission of five senators called the curatores locorum publicorum iudicandorum (translated as "Supervisors of Public Property") was put in charge of maintaining public buildings and temples of the state cult.
Augustus created the senatorial group of the curatores viarum (translated as "Supervisors for Roads") for the upkeep of roads; this senatorial commission worked with local officials and contractors to organize regular repairs.
The Corinthian order of architectural style originating from ancient Greece was the dominant architectural style in the age of Augustus and the imperial phase of Rome.
Suetonius once commented that Rome was unworthy of its status as an imperial capital, yet Augustus and Agrippa set out to dismantle this sentiment by transforming the appearance of Rome upon the classical Greek model.

Mausoleum of Augustus

Suetonius his appearance as:
"... unusually handsome and exceedingly graceful at all periods of his life, though he cared nothing for personal adornment. He was so far from being particular about the dressing of his hair, that he would have several barbers working in a hurry at the same time, and as for his beard he now had it clipped and now shaved, while at the very same time he would either be reading or writing something ... He had clear, bright eyes ... His teeth were wide apart, small, and ill-kept; his hair was slightly curly and inclining to golden; his eyebrows met. His ears were of moderate size, and his nose projected a little at the top and then bent ever so slightly inward. His complexion was between dark and fair. He was short of stature (although Julius Marathus, his freedman and keeper of his records, says that he was five feet and nine inches, more or less 1.75 meter, in height), but this was concealed by the fine proportion and symmetry of his figure, and was noticeable only by comparison with some taller person standing beside him. ... "
His official images were very tightly controlled and idealized, drawing from a tradition of Hellenistic royal portraiture rather than the tradition of realism in Roman portraiture.
He first appeared on coins at the age of 19, and from about 29 BC "the explosion in the number of Augustan portraits attests a concerted propaganda campaign aimed at dominating all aspects of civil, religious, economic and military life with Augustus' person."
The early images did indeed depict a young man, but although there were gradual changes his images remained youthful until he died in his seventies, by which time they had "a distanced air of ageless majesty".

with the Principate solidly established, the story continues with Augustus' reluctant heir

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2016