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The name by which Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, the first Roman emperor, in whose reign Jesus Christ was born, is usually known; born at Rome, 62 B.C.; died A.D. 14. It is the title which he received from the Senate 27 B.C., in gratitude for the restoration of some privileges of which that body had been deprived. The name was afterwards assumed by all his successors. Augustus belonged to the gens Octavia and was the son of Caius Octavius, a praetor. He was the grand-nephew of (Caius) Julius Caesar, and was named in the latter's will as his principal heir. After the murder of Julius Caesar, the young Octavianus proceeded to Rome to gain possession of his inheritance. Though originally in league with the republican party, he eventually allied himself with Mark Antony. Through his own popularity, and in opposition to the will of the senate he succeeded (43 B.C.) in obtaining the consulate. In the same year he entered into a pat with Antony and Lepidus by which it was agreed that for five years they would control the affairs of Rome. This (second) Triumvirate ( tresviri reipublicae constituendae ) so apportioned the Roman dominions that Lepidus received Spain ; Antony, Gaul; and Augustus, Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia. The first concerted move of the Triumvirate was to proceed against the murderers of Caesar and the party of the Senate under the leadership of Brutus and Cassius. A crushing defeat was inflicted on the latter at the battle of Philippi (42 B.C.), after which the fate of Rome rested practically in the hands of two men. Lepidus, always treated with neglect, sought to obtain Sicily for himself, but Augustus soon won over his troops, and, on his submission, sent him to Rome where he spent the rest of his life as pontifex maximus .
A new division of the territory of the Republic between Antony and Augustus resulted, by which the former took the East and the latter the West. When Antony put away his wife Octavia, the sister of Augustus, through infatuation for Cleopatra, civil war again ensued, whose real cause is doubtless to be sought in the conflicting interests of both, and the long-standing antagonism between the East and the West. The followers of Antony were routed in the naval battle of Actium (31 B.C.), and Augustus was left, to all intents and purposes, the master of the Roman world. He succeeded in bringing peace to the long-distracted Republic, and by his moderation in dealing with the senate, his munificence to the army, and his generosity to the people, he strengthened his position and became in fact, if not in name, the first Emperor of Rome. His policy of preserving intact the republican forms of administration and of avoiding all semblance of absolute power or monarchy did not diminish his power or weaken his control. Whatever may be said in regard to the general character of his administration and his policy of centralization, it cannot be denied that he succeeded effectually in strengthening and consolidating the loosely organized Roman state into a close and well-knit whole. He was a patron of art, letters, and science, and devoted large sums of money to the establishment and enlargement of Rome. It was his well-known boast that he "found it of brick and left it of marble". Under his management, industry and commerce increased. Security and rapidity of intercourse were obtained by means of many new highways. He undertook to remove by legislation the disorder and confusion in life and morals brought about, in great measure, by the civil wars. His court life was simple and unostentatious. Severe laws were made for the purpose of encouraging marriages and increasing the birth-rate. The immorality of the games and the theatres was curbed, and new laws introduced to regulate the status of freedmen and slaves. The changes wrought by Augustus in the administration of Rome, and his policy in the Orient are of especial significance to the historian of Christianity. The most important event of his reign was the birth of Our Lord ( Luke 2:1 ) in Palestine. The details of Christ's life on earth, from His birth to His death, were very closely interwoven with the purposes and methods pursued by Augustus. The Emperor died in the seventy-sixth year of his age (A.D. 14). After the battle of Actium, he received into his favour Herod the Great, confirmed him in his title of King of the Jews, and granted him the territory between Galilee and the Trachonitis, thereby winning the gratitude and devotion of Herod and his house. After the death of Herod (750 A.U.C.), Augustus divided his kingdom between his sons. One of them, Archelaus, was eventually banished, and his territory, together with Idumaea and Samaria, were added to the province of Syria (759 A.U.C.). On this occasion, Augustus caused a census of the province to be taken by the legate, Sulpicius Quirinius, the circumstances of which are of great importance for the right calculation of the birth of Christ. See ROMAN EMPIRE; LUKE, GOSPEL OF.
The chief sources for the life of Augustus are the Latin writers, SUETONIUS, TACITUS, VELLEIUS PATERCULUS, and CICERO (in his Epistles and Philippics); the Greek writers, NICHOLAS OF DAMASCUS, DIO CASSIUS, and PLUTARCH. See also his official autobiography, the famous Monumentum Ancyranum . For the origin and character of the legends that, at an early date, made Augustus one of the "prophets of Christ" see GRAF, Roma nella memoria e nelle immaginazioni del Medio Evo (Turin, 1882), I, ix, 308, 331.
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