Augustus: Rome's Powerful First Empire

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Part 2: The Struggle for Supremacy

The following year, Octavian and Antony joined together to defeat Brutus and Cassius, two of Caesar's assassins, at Philippi, in Greece. Not long after, the triumvirs divided Rome's provinces among themselves, with Octavian taking Gaul, Spain, and Italy; Antony taking Egypt and the East; and Lepidus getting Africa. To cement the alliance, Octavian gave his sister, Octavia, to Antony as a wife.

Antony soon became interested in Egypt's queen and pharaoh, Cleopatra, and had little time for Octavia. For awhile, though, military necessity trumped familial fidelity, as Antony lent his support to Octavian's campaign against the rebellious Sextus Pompeius and Octavian agreed to lend his support to Antony's intended campaign against the Parthians (to avenge the loss of Crassus in 53 B.C.).

Lepidus, too, contributed troops to the struggle against Sextus Pompeius, and the result was a rout, after which Lepidus tried to take all of Sicily for himself. Antony did not interfere as Octavian removed Lepidus from the Triumvirate and took his other titles as well, leaving only pontifex maxims (head of the school of priests).

Antony's campaign in the east succeeded no better than had that of Crassus, and he returned to Cleopatra and Egypt, where he decided to stay, telling his wife to return to Rome without him. Antony did win a few victories, though, notably in Armenia, and made his son that country's ruler. With Antony in Egypt and Lepidus in exile, Octavian was left alone in Rome, where he put his presence to good advantage, building up a propaganda campaign against Antony. 

Octavian got his hands on Antony's secret will and revealed to the Roman public that Antony planned to leave his inheritance to his children by Cleopatra, not those he had with his Roman wife, Octavia. The Senate revoked Antony's governmental status and declared war on Cleopatra.

Octavian and Antony met in the Battle of Actium, in 31 B.C., and Octavian's victory resulted in the deaths of both Antony and Cleopatra.
Careful of appearing to be a dictator, Octavian moved quietly yet methodically toward becoming just that. He had convinced the Senate to give him a series of lifetime powers, including those of censor and tribune, two of Rome's most powerful forces. In addition, he had complete command of the military. He called himself Princeps Civitatis, which means "First Citizen." The government with him at the top came to be known as the Principate. Also, in 27 B.C., he took the name by which is most well-known, Augustus.

He led his legions into Gaul and Spain, solidifying Roman control there, then returned victorious. He enjoyed broad support from his soldiers and from the public for his victories. It also didn't hurt that he sponsored a number of public games, which proved quite popular with the military and the people alike.

Flush with money from his various military campaigns and from his inheritance from Caesar, Augustus was free to use his own funds to finance the building of a number of roads throughout Italy, after the Senate couldn't come up with enough money or support for the job. He was gaining even more wealth through his command of the provinces, of which he, as the dominant military figure, oversaw the majority, at the Senate's insistence.

As a member of the Second Triumvirate, he has served as a consul, normally the highest elected office in the land. He continued to serve in that office; and later, at the insistence of some in the Senate, named a co-consul, Calpurnius Piso. It was to Piso that Augustus gave all of his official documents and records in 23 B.C., when he fell violently ill and feared death. He gave his signet ring to his favorite general, Agrippa.

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