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When someone thinks about ancient Rome and political powers within the society, many people will acknowledge the first Roman emperor, Augustus. However, very few people truly contemplate who the man was before he took on the infamous name.

He was born on September 23, 63 BC in the city of Rome with the official name Gaius Octavius but was sometimes referred to as Thurinus (Southern 1). Without any sound evidence, it can only be speculated as to why he later dropped ties to the name Thurinus and stuck to that of his father, Gaius Octavius. One may hazard to say that the young man changed his title because the name already had a rather successful career attached to it due to his biological father rising within the political ranks. He may have seen it as a way to gain more standing within the Roman government.

Octavius’ family origins are rather obscure. They originated from a Volscian town about twenty-five miles southeast of Rome, called Velitrae. The Octavii were wealthy equestrians, and bankers, and were considered local aristocracy, a distinguished family in the town (Shotter 1-2). Due to the close bonds the Octavii had with the location, there is very little doubt that Gaius was raised in the town for some time; some even accused that he was born in Velitrae. Octavius was brought up in a family of five; he had two sisters by the names of Octavia Major and Minor and his parents Gaius Octavius and his second wife, Atia (Southern 1-2).

The union to Atia, daughter of Marcus Atius Balbus of Africa and Julia (Canfora 245), was a political marriage due to her being the niece of Julius Caesar, who was just a rising politician at the time. The connections gained from the union furthered the elder Octavius’ career. His vocation evolved with each title he gained. The roles of military tribune, quaestor, plebian aedile (Southern 2), and praetor were all fulfilled by Octavius by the time Thurinus was two years old in 61 BC (Galinsky 5). However, he passed, rather suddenly, shortly after returning from Macedonia, where he was acting proconsul from 60 to 59 BC (Edmondson 1). During the fatherless period that lasted around two to three years, Octavius was taught by his mother. Atia was later united with Lucius Marcius Philippus in another political marriage, in either 57 or 56 BC (Southern 3-4).

Growing up, Octavius was constantly around politically driven people. This is a result of being the product of a politically driven marriage as well as being in the middle of the era that is now considered the “Fall of the Republic”, a period where Romans failed to agree to the rules of their “political game” (Flower 136). As he went through the years, he would have heard many names and opinions that were associated with the Roman political environment. With that being said, it is not unlikely that he was cultivated to become a well-to-do government spearhead. With that politically aware atmospheric homelife coupled with his continued education in oratory, both Latin and Greek (Southern 4), Octavius was being shaped into the perfect person to someday take power in Rome. He even went through the rite of toga virilis, a ceremony where those around eighteen lay down their togas that symbolize their youth and officially enrolled as adult Roman citizens, on October 18, 48 BC at the tender age of fifteen (12).

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Julius Caesar played a fairly large role early in Octavius’ life. He was raised on stories of his great-uncle’s achievements and victories. It is wholly possible that Gaius Octavius grew up with more knowledge about a family member that he had not met until he was a teenager than his father (Southern 4). This was a factor that later helped him due to Caesar taking Octavius under his wing. His first public appearance, that we know of, is when he gave a eulogy for his grandmother, Julia, the younger sister of Caesar. He later went to shoulder many titles throughout this short nineteen-year long period, including being co-opted into a priesthood, the pontificate (Levick 4-5), named praefectus urbi during the Friae Latinae celebration (Southern 14), and later magister equitum (20).

Throughout his life, Octavius was regularly in ill health. He had numerous opportunities to accompany Julius Caesar on his expeditions, but his sickness always held him back. One occurrence was right before the voyage to Africa during Caesar’s Civil War, an expedition to fight the Pompeians (Southern 14). Another incident was right before Caesar’s expedition to Spain commenced. Octavius was said to be so sick that at one point Caesar jumped from his table and ran to be by his bedridden great-nephew (16). His illness cleared with enough time for him to leave for Spain, in hopes of catching up with Caesar. Unfortunately, he did not arrive until after the battle of Munda had been fought and won. However, Octavius took the time on the way back from Spain to converse and learn from Caesar (17).

Once Octavius, Caesar, and the army returned to Rome, Caesar established his ten-year dictatorship; this eventually extended to a lifelong dictatorship on February 15, 44 BC (Goldsworthy 78). As this progressed, Octavius continued to learn and show his charismatic and politically geared side. Shortly after their homecoming, Caesar sent Octavius to Apollonia to further his education in military service, politics, and the art of government (Southern 4 & 20). Due to the fact that Octavius was a sickly being, he was not able to gather the necessary military involvement that was needed to further his career in the political world. So he helped train the troops that were posted in Apollonia with him, therefore meeting the prerequisite (20).

While in Apollonia, Octavius received a tragic message through a slave owned by his mother. He had to go back to Rome. Why? The dictator was gone. The man who took him under his wing, who cared about him more than most people understood, the man that he had more knowledge of than his father was no longer breathing. On March 15, 44 BC, Julius Caesar had been assassinated (Southern 20-21).

Bibliography

    1. Canfora, Luciano. Julius Caesar: The People’s Dictator. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
    2. Edmondson, Jonathan. Augustus. Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
    3. Flower, Harriet I. Roman Republics. Princeton University Press, 2010.
    4. Galinsky, Karl. Augustus: Introduction to the Life of an Emperor. Cambridge University Press, 2012.
    5. Goldsworthy, Adrian. Caesars Civil War 49-44 BC. Taylor and Francis, 2003.
    6. Levick, Barbara. Augustus: Image and Reality. Routledge, 2010.
    7. Shotter, David. Augustus Caesar. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2005.
    8. Southern, Pat. Augustus. Routledge, 1998.

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