Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today is the anniversary of...

Augustus's death. He died on August 19th 14.C.E, at the age of 76 (he was born in 63.B.C.E - Cicero's year as Consul) and by the time of his death had effectively been sole ruler for almost 45 years (beginning after the Battle of Actium in 31.B.C.E, although often his rule is dated from 27.B.C.E, when he was given the title of Augustus and he proclaimed the Res publica restored).

Although it had been coming for quite some time (Tiberius had been effectively sharing his powers, but not his auctoritas for a while), it was still an immense shock to a society and city that had been crafted (nay completely overhauled) in the first Princeps' image.

Augustus himself had been visiting Nola, place of his fathers death, when he died - Suetonius even has it that he died in the same room. Tiberius and Livia were both present and the latter proclaimed Emperor. Suetonius tells us that among Augustus' last words he said:

"If I have played my part well, clap your hands, and dismiss me with applause from the stage"

and with his freshly combed hair (also from Suetonius) he reminded Livia to stay true to their marriage and he peacefully died. It's unknown whether he was applauded off the stage, so to speak, but it's almost certain that, with hindsight, one can say Augustus did indeed play his role of Emperor well.

The Pax Romana that he had initiated, lasted over 200 years after his death, and through his remoulding of the Roman state in his image he had transcended the role of a normal mortal man - embodied in his ascension to the Roman pantheon just immediately after his death (again from Suetonius).

Christian Meier claims in his biography of Caesar claims Augustus had to be an actor, as his aims could never have been achieved unless he could be many things to many people. I happen to agree. It's partly because of this that it's truly difficult to know the real Augustus (as far as one exists).

It's difficult to overstate the impact of Augustus on the Roman state and it's subsequent history and so Requiscat in Pace.

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