The Life and Legacy of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian

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The One True King

Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian, or Augustus is one of history's most interesting people. He was presented an entirely unique opportunity, the likes of which we are never like to see again. Octavian, as he was known at the time, was a nephew of the then dictator of Rome, the infamous Julius Caesar. As a child, he lived with his mother and father, and led the life of an average Roman citizen. In 44 BCE, when Octavian was only 19, Julius Caesar was assassinated by Brutus and Gaius Cassius. To the surprise of his family, Julius Caesar named Octavian his son and heir in his will. Octavian took on Caesar's name, officially becoming Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius. This was the year his life truly began, and he would go on to become Rome's greatest leader and the man who changed it forever.

Octavian's story, however, does not start with him. Julius Caesar, his adoptive father, had been toying with dictatorship for years. He had been appointed dictator at different points, even being named dictator for ten years after his victory over Pompey. In 44 BCE, he declares himself "dictator for life", in an unknowingly successful attempt to abolish the republic. He only enjoys being dictator for a few weeks, however, because on March 15 (a date forever immortalized) he is assassinated. A group of approximately 30 senators, led by Gaius Cassius and Caesar's closest friend, Marcus Junius Brutus, rush Caesar while he speaks at the podium and stab him to death. His assassination, to me, is actually sort of poetic- because of the massive amount of wounds, determining which knife actually dealt the killing blow is nigh impossible, resulting in a shared blame for the conspirators. The motive is pure-or, it would have been for the conspirators. They had no desire for power, or wealth. The conspirators assassinated Julius Caesar for what they believed to be the good of all Rome. Caesar's final words, in Greek, were kai su, teknon? This translates roughly to "and you too, child?" Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the purported leaders of the conspirators, was Caesar's closest friend and protégé. Caesar, and his last words, were immortalized by Shakespeare, the key difference being that in the play Julius Caesar, the titular Caesar's last words were Et tu, Brute?, meaning 'and you, Brutus?' This phrase has been made into an idiom over time, used to signify betrayal, especially by a close friend. Octavian's inheritance, and his new identity, were unknown until the reading of Caesar's will. Octavian's parents advised him to refuse the inheritance, but he did despite their advice. Octavian took on his adoptive father's name, and became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius. He would go on to form the Second Triumvirate with Marc Antony and Marcus Lepidus to hunt down his father's killer.

Augustus was uniquely suited to be emperor. Where Julius Caesar was domineering and warlike, Caesar Octavius was charismatic and clever. He treated the people like his children, being kind and considerate while also planting seeds of doubt against his enemies. For example, Caesar's will included a sort of stimulus- 300 gold to be paid out to every Roman citizen after Caesar died. Marc Antony took the money for this stimulus and used it to fund conflict in Egypt. While Antony was away, Caesar Octavius held an assembly, announcing that not only had the villain Antony stolen the people's inheritance, but that he, the rightful Julius Caesar, would pay them their 300 gold out of pocket, as their ruler had always intended. This was a perfectly Augustine thing to do- he used only his own wits and his resources to simultaneously cast doubt on Marc Antony and bring him respect. There are other accounts of Augustus using his own charisma and guile to get what he wants, as opposed to simply taking it. At one point, he even walked into Lepidus' camps, stood at a podium, and convinced them that he was a better general, and that they should follow him instead. And they did. Augustus took an entire army without ever raising a hand- and not only did he take an army, he took an army who wanted to fight for him. Morale would never be a problem, because his new army loved him and believed him to be their one true king. He was even able to become dictator without ever truly taking the title. He merely asked for a select few powers, and was effectively emperor of Rome.

Augustus did a lot of great things for Rome, and the question has persisted- was it worth it? Were the Romans right in allowing Augustus to rule them? Was the peace worth the loss of their republic? In my opinion, yes. There is nothing inherently moral about one system of government or another, and Augusts had proved himself to be a good and strong ruler. He cared about his people, and protected them and all who looked up to him. He brought Rome peace, prosperity, and expanded the empire to greater lengths than it had previously known. The only thing truly worth regretting about Augustus' rule is that he never groomed a true successor- he was Rome's first emperor, and unfortunately, it's only good one. It is my opinion that not despite, but because of the demolishing of the republic, Augustus was able to truly restore Rome. He earned his rank not by force, or violence, or divine right, but by truly loving and doing what was best for Rome.

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The Life and Legacy of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian. (2022, Dec 12). Retrieved April 13, 2024 , from

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