Week 10 – Julius Caesar & Augustus

Week 10 –

Julius Caesar

In 60 BC, during the First triumvirate, Caesar was a consul. He received a command to go with a part of the Roman army to Gaul. He was there until 53 BC. In that year he finally won the Gallic wars and wrote commentaries about it. Pompey grows jealous of Caesar because of this. Caesar is then ordered to return home, but he refuses, since there are a lot of enemies, waiting for him to come so they could kill him. He demands a reconsideration of the bill, ordering both Pompey and himself to disarm, but consuls, backed up by Pompey, refuse to allow a vote. Caesar maintains his army and illegally crosses the Rubicon River. Caesar’s march ignites a civil war with Pompey’s force, Caesar emerges victorious. But as H. H. Scullard said – “No real principles were at stake. That was the tragedy. It was a struggle for personal power, prestige and honour.”

In 48 BC, Caesar was made dictator for life. He fills Senate with his supporters, swells to 900 members; makes a calendar reform; plans for major building project and further military action… Senators started to fear and resent him, which lead to him being assassinated in March 15th 44 BC.

But what was his ultimate plan? We will never know, but judging by the fact that he had his face made on coins and seeing what he was wearing makes us believe, that he wanted to become the king.



Octavian at first – Caesar’s grand nephew. But instead of Octavian, Mark Antony was named a heir in Caesar’s will. There was some time, everything in the will seems to be in Mark Antony’s welfare and people grow suspicious. Meanwhile Octavian forms an army of old veterans and uses them again Mark Antony. He defeats him, returns to Rome and demands to become a consul.

Later on, they come to an agreement and they create the Second Triumvirate, including Octavian, Antony and Lepidus. They make it into a law which allows them to “set up the state” for five years. This law will be renewed. They returned the traditional process of lawmaking and suspended elections, as under Caesar, and appointed all magistrates. Their powers were never clearly spelled out due to its overwhelmingness. Antony took much of Gaul and kept watch over Italy, Lepidus had the rest of Gaul and Spain and Octavian took Africa, Sicily and Sardinia. All three had coins issued with their faces.

First, they wanted to deal with the killers of Caesar. They receive money from proscriptions and Antony insists on the murder of Cicero. This was the bloodiest reign of terror in Roman history. They confiscated estates to pay their troops, soldiers guarding all exits from the city, proscribes hid in attics, sewers etc. – many committed suicide. Salvius, knowing what he has done, gave a last feast – unfortunately he ended up being killed by the representatives of Triumvirs and everyone had to continue eating while his dead body was on the table.

Brutus and Cassius had wealth in the east. Cassius made money by quartering his troops in private homes until they paid him a fortune to leave – people were forced to raise the sum by selling their precious items, auctioning their property or selling people into slavery.

Brutus became the rallying point for the republicans, coins depict daggers of the Liberators, along with Brutus’ face.

October 42 BC, the battle of Philippi occurred – final battle in the wars of the Second Triumvirate between forces of Mark Antony and Octavian and Brutus and Cassius. The Second Triumvirate won, making Brutus kill himself by throwing himself on his friend’s sword. Antony covered his body with his own robe, because at one time he and Brutus had been friends.

Antony and Octavian decided to go to East to raise money, which gave the cities some relief.

Parthians attack in 40 BC, making Antony turn to Cleopatra – they end up getting married. Octavian reads Antony’s will to Senate, where he provides for Antony’s children with Cleopatra and asks to be buried next to her. He bequeaths them the Eastern provinces and there is also some evidence that he intends to move the capital to Alexandria. Octavian says that Antony will sell out Rome to Egypt and declares war against Cleopatra.

Battle of Actim, 31 BC – Octavian is the decisive victor, Antony flees to Egypt with Cleopatra and they both commit suicide, but Cleopatra doesn’t die and Antony dies in her arms.


Octavian later wants to retire but he knows that if he does, civil war will return as it did under Sulla. If he exercises absolute power, he will arouse hatred. He wants a unified military command in his own hands.

By 29 BC, he comes back in Rome for his triumph; he spends wealth of Egypt on Romans and forgives property owners their tax arrears. Due to substantial demobilization, Octavian’s 60 legions become 28. In January 27 BC, Octavians tells Senate that republic is safe and relinquishes his powers. He agrees to accept administration of Spain, Gaul and Syria. This is where he finally gets his name Augustus.

In 23 BC, there are further modifications – he resigns consulship with granted imperium that can override any provincial governor, which he uses circumspectly and tactfully. He is also given tribunicia potestas, meaning that he can bring measures before the people and can exercise a veto.

He makes some social reforms, which encourage marriage and discourage childlessness. Adultery becomes a public crime and a private offense – husband could prosecute wife and lover. His daughter Julia’s scandalous behaviour leads him to banishing her and people beg him to forgive her.

Later on he makes some religious reforms, restoring the old virtues. He restores old shrines and builds new ones, encourages cult of Roma et Augustus.

Thanks to him, many authors of epics and other works are born.

There is much more to both topics, but this is just a short overview.


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