(27 BC to AD 14)
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Caius Octavius, the future emperor Augustus, was born on September 23, 63 BC. He was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar and was adopted as Caesar’s son according to his will which was revealed just after his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 BC. Caius Octavius now became known as Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus. When Octavian achieved victory at the battle of Mutina in 43 BC the Senate refused him due honors and his legionaries forced the Senate to appoint him as consul. It was also in this year that Octavian entered into an agreement with his rivals in power Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus known as the Second Triumvirate in which Octavian received control of the provinces of Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia and governed Italy as well. In 42 BC Octavian, along with his fellow triumvirs, avenged the murder of his father Julius by defeating the assassins Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi. Julius Caesar was also deified in this year after which point Octavian came to be known as divi filius “son of the Divine (Julius)”, a title which is strongly evident on the coins of this period.
Soon the Second Triumvirate began to deteriorate. In 36 BC Octavian defeated Sextus Pompeius at which point Octavian won over the forces of his colleague Lepidus, forcing him into retirement. Marc Antony, who had married Octavian’s sister Octavia, openly divorced her and married the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt Cleopatra. This act not only angered Octavian but much of the Roman aristocracy as well and helped Octavian to receive the support which he needed to defeat his remaining rival Antony and assume supreme power in Rome. The forces of Octavian and Marc Antony met head-to-head at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC with Octavian emerging as the victor and Antony and Cleopatra fleeing towards Egypt. In the following year Octavian seized the city of Alexandria. Antony, having lost the support of his forces, committed suicide. Cleopatra, fearing the prospect of being led as a hostage through the streets of Rome as part of Octavian’s triumphal procession, committed suicide as well. With his major opponents eliminated Octavian was now able to assume control over the Roman Empire.
In January of 27 BC, Octavian handed control of the state back into the hands of the Senate and Roman People who insisted that the state be governed by him. It was also at this time that he received the honorific title of “Augustus” which proclaimed his superior position in the state. In 23 BC he received proconsular imperium (powers as commander-in-chief of military forces) and the tribunician power for life which were seen as the definitive powers of his supreme authority as emperor of the Roman Empire. The reign of Augustus was generally a peaceful and prosperous one and was marked by the prestigious Secular Games (for description see RE 11C) of 17 BC. The only serious setback Augustus faced during his reign was the defeat of the legions led by the Roman general Varus in AD 9. Three legions were massacred in the Teutenberger Wald of Germany at the hands of the forces led by the German general Arminius. Augustus died in AD 14 at Nola at which point the Senate of Rome decreed that Augustus should be included among the gods of the state. Augustus was known for bringing peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire and the state passed peacefully into the hands of his adopted son Tiberius.
A useful propaganda tool used by Augustus before he became emperor and after was through his lineage to his deified father Julius Caesar. The fact that the god Caesar was his father gave Augustus a significance and an inherent divinity that no one else could lay claim to. This coin which was struck around 18 BC is a commemorative issue that is not only a reminder of Augustus’ divine ancestry, but also remembers the deification of Julius Caesar which occurred in 42 BC.
The obverse is inscribed with the name CAESAR AVGVSTVS with the head of Augustus crowned by a corona civica (oak wreath). The name alone denotes Augustus’ kinship to Julius. The corona civica labels Augustus as the man who saved the citizens and the state of Rome from the destruction of the civil wars of the Republic and as the bringer of peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire.
The reverse of the coin is inscribed DIVVS IVLIVS, “the Divine Julius” The picture is that of an eight-rayed comet with the tail upwards. The comet is a symbol for the god Julius since it was stated in the biography of Julius Caesar by the ancient author Suetonius that a comet was seen over Rome just after Caesar’s death which was believed to be his soul ascending to heaven.
Gaius and Lucius Caesar, the sons of Marcus Agrippa and Augustus’ daughter Julia, were adopted by Augustus as his own sons and heirs in 17 BC. Gaius and Lucius were only young boys at this time and would not have been ready to rule if Augustus suddenly passed away. Therefore Agrippa, and after Agrippa’s death, Tiberius, would most likely have been regent until the youths came of age and were able to succeed as emperors. Gaius and Lucius did come of age but died untimely deaths long before Augustus died which left Augustus’ dynastic intentions unrealized. In AD 2 Lucius died of a sudden illness while enroute to Spain to assume command of troops while Gaius died just two years later after being wounded while campaigning in Parthia. It was at this point that Augustus was compelled to adopt Tiberius as his son and successor.
Coins struck in Rome advertised Augustus’ dynastic plans. The obverse of this denarius recognizes Augustus as pater patriae, “father of the country.” Augustus had this honor bestowed upon himself in 2 BC which essentially proclaimed him as patron of the Roman Empire, all of its citizens being his clients. The patron-client relationship was a central part of Roman society in which the patrons were viewed as fathers by their clients. The obverse contains the portrait of Augustus wearing the laurel crown which was symbolic of Augustus as a victorious general. The laurel was also representative of the god Apollo who was Augustus’ patron deity and was credited for Augustus’ military success. The abbreviated legend reads, CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI Filius Pater Patriae, “Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Julius, Father of the Country.”
The reverse illustrates
the dynastic and political position of Gaius and Lucius at this time.
It depicts Gaius and Lucius each togate, standing side by side facing the
front. Each of them is resting his hand on a shield behind each of
which stands a spear. These shields and spears represent the coming
of age of Gaius and Lucius and the honor of princepes iuventutis,
“first among the youth” which was an honor bestowed upon them by Augustus.
The simpulum pictured above was one of the insignia of the college of pontiffs.
This represents Gaius who became a pontiff in 7 BC. Also pictured
above is a lituus or augural staff which was the symbol for the college
of augurs and refers to Lucius who was appointed as an augur. The
abbreviated legend reads, Caius Lucius CAESARES AVGVSTI Filii CONSules
DESIGnati PRINCepes IVVENTutis, “Gaius and Lucius Caesar, sons of Augustus,
consuls elect, first among the youth.” The ancient historian Cassius
Dio points out that the people had elected Gaius as consul even before
he had reached military age which Augustus disapproved of since he did
not want a man, not even his own son, to hold the consulship without having
the necessary experience. Nevertheless, Augutsus was very pleased
with the honors which had been voted to his sons. Gaius eventually
held the consulship in AD 1 and Lucius was designated to be consul in AD
4, but did not live to this date.