Julius and Augustus
Home Up Tiberius


Part Two:
Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar

Story written by Rick Archer
November 2009


1 Julius Caesar - The Man Who Ended the Republic

2 Augustus Caesar - The Man Who Was First King

3 Tiberius - The Man Who Did Not Want to be King

4 Sejanus - The Man Who Barely Missed becoming King

5 Caligula - The Man Who Should not Have been King

6 Claudius - The Man Who was too Stupid to be King

7 Nero - The Monster Who Ended the Julio-Claudian Line


You have all heard of ambition gone mad, corruption, and dirty politics.  You have all heard of political assassination. You have all heard of sexual perversion, cruelty, and debauchery.  This story has it all.  So where do you want me to start?

American politics can be pretty rough sometimes, but we cannot even begin to hold a candle to the Romans.  There is no way to explain how stunning some of these stories are. I could barely comprehend or believe some of the stories I read while researching for this article. 

Now I am going to share them with you. If there is one word that could describe this era, it would be "excess."  The Romans did everything to excess.  Too much killing.  Too much sex. 

And too much cruelty.  Endless cruelty.

Look no farther than the savage blood sport recreation of the Romans - watching slaves bash their comrade's brains in during gladiatorial contests, watching defenseless Christians slaughtered by fierce animals, torturing criminals in public for amusement, watching helpless animals abused in all sorts of hideous ways, laughing and jeering at the suffering - and you begin to comprehend this was a horrible, violent society. 

Why they call it the "Roman Civilization" is a mystery.  These people were NOT civilized.

These events occurred two thousand years ago.  Therefore I cannot promise that everything I have written is the truth since I had no choice but to rely on the accounts of others before me.

You can assume, however, that everything I write was faithfully copied from research I did on the Internet.  My main source, of course, was the amazingly helpful Wikipedia. 

What I mean to say is that no matter how outrageous the story is, you have my absolute promise I did not make it up.  I read it, gasped in amazement, then looked at several more sources to see what they had to say.  I found there is strong consensus on even the most outrageous of tales.  And now I am passing it on to you. 

This is a long tale.  Let me assure you of one thing - once you start reading it, you won't want to stop.   RA

This story is told in four parts.

1- The Roman Republic 2- Julius and Augustus Caesar
3- Tiberius 4- Caligula, Claudius, and Nero

Augustus Caesar, the Greatest of them All


1 Julius Caesar  (100-44 BC)

The Man Who Ended the 500 Year Roman Republic


Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC.  He was 56 at the time.  Cut down in the prime of his life, who knows what Caesar could have accomplished had he lived.  Caesar was great for so many reasons.  He was a military genius.  Historians place Caesar as one of the greatest military strategists and tacticians who ever lived, alongside Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Hannibal, Genghis Khan and Napoleon Bonaparte.  

Caesar's hero was Alexander the Great.  One day Caesar encountered a statue of Alexander the Great.  Caesar realized with great dissatisfaction he was now at the same age as when Alexander had the world at his feet.  Caesar was disgusted to note he had achieved comparatively little.

In Caesar's defense, unlike his hero Alexander, Caesar had a much bigger hill to climb.  Alexander was born to the King of Macedonia.  Alexander's entire childhood was dominated by military training. Caesar had no formal military training as a youth.  Nor did he have any special advantages.  Although his parents were patrician, they were neither rich nor influential.  Everything Caesar accomplished, he got it the old-fashioned way - he earned it! 

Caesar got his start in politics.  His greatest gift was a natural ability at oratory.  His fast start in politics was interrupted when a dictator named Sulla came to power in 82 BC.  Caesar was 18 at the time.  At one point Sulla wanted to execute Caesar because he seemed a threat.  Caesar went into hiding and joined the army as a way to leave Rome and keep a low profile.  When Sulla died in 78 BC, Caesar figured the coast was clear, so he decided to return home.

Here is a story about Caesar's considerable moxie. On his way home, he was kidnapped by Cilician pirates and held prisoner on the island of Pharmacusa.  He was 21, but acted 35.  Caesar maintained an attitude of superiority throughout his captivity.  When the pirates thought to demand a ransom of 20 talents of gold, Caesar insisted they ask for 50 instead.  They took his suggestion!  In the process, he had made himself so valuable they made sure to take good care of him.

After the ransom was paid, Caesar raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates.  After he imprisoned them in Pergamon, the governor of Asia refused to execute them as Caesar demanded, preferring to sell them as slaves.  Caesar returned to the coast and had them crucified on his own authority, as he had promised to do when in captivity - a promise the pirates had taken as a joke.  But first he cut their throats to lessen their suffering because they had treated him so well. 

Caesar was an incredibly ambitious man.  These were tumultuous times in Rome.  Thanks to the dictatorship of Sulla, Rome was undergoing a political upheaval.  People changed alliances at the drop of a hat.  Caesar was rumored to be mixed up in sorts of political intrigue.  He was said to be involved in several abortive coup attempts and various plots, but his enemies had trouble pinning him down.  Caesar was either very crafty or enjoyed considerable luck. 

Caesar developed one enemy in particular, Marcus Porcius Cato.  In 63 BC, Cicero, who was consul that year, exposed a conspiracy to seize control of the Republic.  Caesar was accused of involvement in the plot. Caesar, still under suspicion himself, took part in the debate in the Senate on how to deal with the conspirators. During the debate, Caesar was passed a note.

Cato, his implacable political opponent, always watched Caesar like a hawk.  Cato noticed the exchange and pounced on the opportunity.  He accused Caesar of corresponding with the conspirators and demanded that the message be read aloud.

Caesar smiled and passed the note to Cato.  Embarrassingly, the note turned out to be a love letter to Caesar from Cato's half-sister Servilia. Cato didn't bother him again.

Julius Caesar was one of the greatest military leaders in history

Caesar was a gifted orator and a master politician


The First Triumvirate - The Three Headed Monster

In 65 BC Caesar made friends with Crassus, the richest man in Rome.  Large loans financed Caesar's rapid rise in politics. 

, 106-48 BC, was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. He came from a wealthy Italian provincial background.  Pompey was a terrific general.  He established himself in the ranks of Roman nobility by successful leadership in several campaigns.

At the time Caesar was a rising star in Roman politics, Pompey and Crassus were bitter rivals.

The problem had begun in 71 BC.  Crassus had been given the responsibility to stop the slave rebellion led by Spartacus.  After chasing Spartacus across Italy for two long years, Crassus finally cornered and defeated the slave army.  In the same year, Pompey had just finished a six year campaign conquering Hispania (Spain).  As luck would have it, just as Pompey's army returned to Italy, they encountered a huge mob of slaves trying to escape from the battle with Crassus.  Pompey's army easily captured the 5,000 fugitives and hacked them to pieces.

Entering Rome before Crassus, Pompey not only took credit for Hispania, but for defeating Spartacus as well.  Crassus, whose army had done the bulk of the work, was infuriated.  That began the feud.

Ten years later the men were still enemies.  In 61 BC Pompey returned to Rome after several impressive victories in Asia.  He was frustrated when Crassus blocked several of his initiatives in the Senate. Watching the bitter rivals bicker, Caesar saw an opportunity. Caesar was running for consulship, the most powerful position in Rome.  He had some formidable opponents led by his old enemy Cato. Caesar was by no means guaranteed victory.  Caesar needed help.


Both Crassus and Pompey were far more powerful than Caesar.  Caesar decided that to curry favor with one man meant the development of an enemy in the other.  So even though Caesar had the least power of the three, he managed to talk the two men into meeting with him.  Caesar suggested they form a Triumvirate, labeled the "three-headed monster" by his enemies.

The First Triumvirate dominated military and political developments during the final years of the Roman Republic.  Caesar now had the two most powerful men in Rome on his side.  Caesar went to work.  With the help of Crassus and Pompey, in 59 BC, Caesar gained consulship, a type of co-presidency with a term of one year.  Caesar was now one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Caesar found many of his early initiatives blocked by co-consul Bibulus, an intractable opponent representing the interests led by Cato.  Caesar decided he wasn't interested in sharing the power. 

Using the threat of Pompey's military intervention, Caesar succeeded in intimidating Bibulus so badly that the man began to fear for his life.  He stayed in his house for the rest of the year. 

Now unfettered, during his year as sole consul, Caesar pushed Pompey's measures through and helped Crassus' proposals succeed.  He rewarded their confidence in him many times over. Caesar gained as well.  He obtained a 5 year term as proconsul of Gaul at the end of his own consulship.

Unfortunately, Caesar had used many strong-arm tactics to get his way. Running roughshod over his opponents, nothing Caesar's enemies could do was effective against his powerful one-man rule. Roman satirists referred to his term as "The year of the consulship of Julius and Caesar".

There were several people in Rome who didn't think the joke was very funny.  This is the time when Caesar developed many dangerous enemies in the Senate. Licking their wounds, these were the same men who would seek payback years later.  However, right now Caesar wasn't concerned with the future.  When his year's consulship ended, it was time to get out of town or face the music from the new administration.  Caesar left Rome for Gaul just one step ahead of the posse.

Caesar's Gaul

Gaul is where Caesar gained his fame. 

When the campaign started, no one would have guessed the outcome from the beginning.  In 58 BC, Caesar arrived in Gaul (modern day France) deeply in debt and with a very small military force (just 4 legions). 

Caesar immediately went to work.  He would not return to Rome for nine years.  During these nine years, Caesar he conquered most of what is now central Europe, opening up these lands to the Greco-Roman Mediterranean civilization - a decisive act in world history.

Caesar proved himself to be a brilliant military strategist.  To this day,  The rout of Pompey's numerically superior forces at Pharsalus in 48 BC during the Civil War and the complete destruction of Pharnaces' army at the Battle of Zela in 47 BC are campaigns still studied today at every military academy. 

Caesar had all the tools to be a military leader.  Sometimes he used brute force to win his battles, but just as often he found ways to win without risking his own soldiers.  Caesar often resorted to tactical brilliance.  For example, Caesar once used water as a weapon.  During the siege of one Gallic city built on a very steep and high plateau, his engineers tunneled through solid rock, found the source of the spring from which the town was drawing its water supply, and diverted it for the use of his own army.  The town, cut off from their water supply, capitulated at once.

Julius Caesar pushed his army into Gaul in 58BC, on the pretext of assisting Rome's allies in Gaul against the migrating Helvetii. With the help of various Gallic tribes (e.g., the Aedui) he managed to conquer nearly all of Gaul without too much resistance.  The Romans seemed invincible.  Since Caesar had a reputation for sparing the lives of his enemies, often times his opponents gave in more quickly just to end the suffering when it didn't look like they could win. 

Then Caesar met his match.  The Arverni tribe, under Chieftain Vercingetorix, still defied Roman rule.  Vercingetorix proved to be a tough opponent.  Julius Caesar was checked by Vercingetorix at a siege of Gergorvia, a fortified town in the center of Gaul.  Sensing their chance, many Gallic tribes broke their alliance with Caesar. Even the Aedui, their most faithful supporters, threw in their lot with the Arverni.  With this rebellion, 6 years of fighting in Gaul seemed to be going down the drain.

In 52 BC, Caesar took a desperate gamble.  He attacked the stronghold of Vercingetorix at Alesia even though the the Romans were outnumbered five to one!  After winning several battles against Caesar, Vercingetorix had decided to muster all his forces in one spot, an impregnable fortress high up on a hill, to prepare for the final attack against Caesar.  Caesar was in non mood to be passive.  To his surprise, Caesar secretly followed him there and lay siege to the fortress.  Then Caesar had his men begin to dig a huge ditch around the castle.  The enemy saw no threat in this ditch and laughed derisively. Then one day, Caesar shocked his enemy by diverting a nearby river and converting the ditch into a massive moat.  80,000 troops were suddenly trapped! 

Of course the enemy fought desperately to free themselves, but like a giant boa constrictor Caesar's forces sucked the life out of them. Soon the Gauls were starving. With 80,000 soldiers and the local population, too many people were crowded inside the plateau competing for too little food.

The Gauls decided to expel the women and children from the citadel to save food for the fighters. They hoped that Caesar would open his defenses to let them go.  This would create an opportunity the army could use to breach the Roman lines.  Unfortunately, Caesar knew exactly what the enemy was doing.  He issued orders that nothing should be done for these civilians.  The women and children were trapped.  The Romans simply left them to starve in the no man's land between the city walls and the circumvallation.  Did I mention Caesar could be ruthless? 

Seeing that their gamble had failed, the Gauls could not bear to watch their helpless women and children die slowly before their eyes.  Caesar's will was greater than their own.  They finally just gave up and surrendered.  Caesar had defeated his greatest opponent to date.  Gaul was his.

As many as a million people (probably 1 in 4 of the Gauls) died, another million were enslaved, 300 tribes were subjugated and 800 cities were destroyed during the Gallic Wars. During Julius Caesar's campaign against the Helvetii (Switzerland) approximately 60% of the tribe was destroyed, and another 20% was taken into slavery.

Caesar's forces loved him fiercely.  They saw that he did everything in his power to protect them from needless danger and they enjoyed getting rich off his conquests.  Not surprisingly, they were loyal and ready to respond when he asked them to.

Rome loved Caesar too.  The ongoing success of the Gallic Wars brought an enormous amount of wealth to the Republic through spoils of war and new lands to tax. Caesar himself became very rich since, as general, he benefited from the sale of war prisoners. His book Gallia was wildly popular at home.  Caesar had made quite a name for himself in his absence.

Gaul was modern day France. During the campaign in Gaul, Caesar conquered practically all the territory on this map.

The Defeat of Vercingetorix - Julius Caesar conquers Gaul


Storm Clouds Over Rome

The First Triumvirate had ended in 54 BC. Caesar was still in Gaul at the time.  It had been an unstable political alliance from the start. It only lasted for seven years.  None of three men ever trusted each other. 

It was two deaths that brought the Triumvirate to its end.  First Julia, wife of Pompey and daughter of Caesar, died in childbirth as did the infant.  The political marriage of Julia and Pompey had meant to cement the ties between the two powerful men.  To Pompey's surprise, he had fallen deeply in love with Julia.  She had been the tie that kept the bond between Pompey and Caesar intact.  Now with Julia gone and the third wheel Crassus far away over in Asia Minor, an uneasy rift developed between the two great generals.

Then came the news that Crassus was dead.  Crassus had died fighting the Parthians in ancient Iran.  The Battle of Carrhae, 53 BC, was one of the most crushing defeats in all of Roman history.

Caesar was still in in Gaul when he learned his benefactor Crassus had met his death.  That left Caesar and Pompey as the two undisputed powers of Rome.  Neither man was interested in sharing power.  However, at the moment, Pompey held the upper hand.  Since Pompey was based in Rome, Caesar knew his likely rival had the inside track to gain political prominence.  It was obvious to Caesar that he and Pompey, his former brother in law and Triumvirate member, would have fight it out for the control of Rome.

In 50 BC Caesar had finished conquering Gaul.  Besides, his legal term as proconsul in Gaul had ended. It was time to return to Rome. Nine years earlier when the Triumvirate had begun during his year as Consul, Caesar was the weakest of the three.  Now as he finished his time in Gaul, Caesar was the strongest.  Or was he? 

Caesar's Clash of the Titans against Pompey would soon begin.  No one knew it at the time, but this significant episode was the beginning of the end for the 500 year Roman Republic.  Over the next 25 years, Rome would be plagued with constant civil wars, first with Caesar, then with his successor Augustus.  Out of the ashes would rise the Roman Empire.

Crossing the Rubicon

In 50 BC, the Senate, led by Pompey, ordered Caesar to return to Rome because his term as Proconsul had finished.  Caesar knew he enjoyed wide popular support in Rome among the people.  However, many of the men he had crossed nine years earlier during his controversial year as Consul were back home waiting for him.

Caesar attempted to regain political strength by running for a second term as Consul while still in Gaul.  Unfortunately, the Senate forbade Caesar to stand for a second consulship in absentia.

Caesar was well aware he had enemies in Rome ready to take him down.  Furthermore, he knew full well that Pompey had allied himself with those enemies.  Caesar had no political ranking in Rome. Caesar expected to be prosecuted and politically marginalized if he entered Rome without the political immunity enjoyed by a Consul. 

On the other hand, Caesar had two powerful assets, his fame and his army.  He knew the people of Rome would welcome him.  But he had no guarantee for his safety since Pompey had ordered Caesar to disband his army.  Caesar had no intention of walking into the obvious trap unprotected.  Therefore Caesar refused to relinquish his army.  Frustrated at Caesar's defiance, Pompey accused Caesar of insubordination and treason.  If Caesar were to enter Rome with his army, Pompey said it would be an act of war.  That threat did not stop Caesar.

On 10 January 49 BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon River, an event known as Crossing the Rubicon.  With him was a single legion. The Rubicon was the frontier boundary of Italy.  No army was allowed inside this protective barrier. Thus Caesar knew full well his bold action would ignite civil war.  Aware of the danger ahead, Caesar uttered his immortal words "the die is cast."

Thanks to his famous success in Gaul, Caesar returned home with an intimidating military reputation.  Despite greatly outnumbering Caesar, who had only his Thirteenth Legion with him, Pompey had no intention to fight.  Like a coward, Pompey turned heel and ran!  That was his first mistake.

Civil War

Caesar pursued Pompey to Brindisium, a southern port on the 'heel' of Italy, hoping to capture Pompey before the trapped Senate and their legions could escape.  Pompey barely managed to elude him, sailing out of the harbor moments before Caesar could break through the barricades.

Caesar had no navy.  Furthermore there were no ships in the area available.  Caesar could not chase Pompey. 
Caesar was furious.  He had barely missed his best chance to end this conflict quickly. However, Caesar was comforted by a serious blunder made by Pompey. 

In his panic to flee Caesar, neither Pompey nor the Senate had thought of taking the vast treasury with them.  Maybe they assumed that Caesar would not dare take it for himself.  It was left conveniently in the Temple of Saturn when Caesar and his forces entered Rome.  In a convenient twist on the old adage 'whoever has gold makes the rules', Caesar simply said, 'whoever has the army takes the gold'. 

It is a good thing that Caesar was rich because
Caesar was forced to spend the next two years chasing Pompey across the Mediterranean.  First Caesar decided to head overland for Hispania. Leaving Lepidus as prefect of Rome and the rest of Italy under Mark Antony as tribune, Caesar made an astonishing 27-day route-march to Hispania.  On the way, two of his Gallic legions met up with Caesar to strengthen his army for the upcoming fight in Spain. 

Hispania was a Pompey stronghold thanks his victory in 71 BC after a six year campaign.  Hispania was a symbol of great pride to Pompey as Gaul was to Caesar.  If Caesar was to unite Rome, he might as well start by taking this valuable region for himself.  In Hispania, Caesar easily defeated Pompey's lieutenants. Now Caesar turned east to challenge Pompey in Greece. 

The Greek Campaign would prove to be a much tougher struggle.  On July 48 BC, Caesar barely avoided a catastrophic defeat at Dyrrhachium when the line of fortification was broken.  This was the closest Caesar had ever come to defeat.  Now Pompey made his third major blunder.  By failing to pursue the fleeing men at the critical moment of Caesar's defeat, Pompey threw away his best chance to destroy Caesar's much smaller army.  Caesar lived to fight on.

One month later in August 48 BC, Caesar and Pompey squared off again. Pompey had 45,000 men to Caesar's 22,000.  Pompey had 7,000 cavalry, Caesar 1,000. Considering he had just narrowly avoided defeat and being outnumbered two to one, another man would have hesitated.  Not Caesar.

Caesar soundly vanquished Pompey on the fields of Pharsalus in an extremely short battle.  Caesar's warriors were more experienced. First they sniffed out the trap Pompey had set for them and avoided it.  Next Caesar brought in a surprise hidden legion to snuff out Pompey's major thrust, and then his men moved with unbelievable speed to the point of counter-attack. 

Pompey again fled the scene. Caesar was disgusted.  When the Civil War had begun, Caesar had predicted, "I set forth to fight an army without a leader, so as later to fight a leader without an army."  The prediction had come true.  Pompey had lost his army. 

Pompey escaped to Egypt and sought refuge in the court of Ptolemy.  Bad move.   He was assassinated by a former Roman loyal to Caesar who was working in Egypt at the time.

When Caesar entered Egypt in pursuit of Pompey, he was immediately asked to take sides in the Egyptian Civil War between Ptolemy and his sister Cleopatra.  Ptolemy held the upper hand as Caesar arrived.  But Cleopatra had herself smuggled into the palace in Alexandria wrapped in a rug (purportedly a gift for Caesar).  Using her considerable powers of persuasion, she enlisted his help in her struggle to control the Egyptian throne.  How could Caesar resist?

Defying the Senate: Caesar crosses the Rubicon

Civil War With Pompey

Pompey flees Caesar after the Battle of Pharsalus

Cleopatra secretly smuggled herself into Caesar's chambers
inside a rug to meet her new boyfriend. 

Beware the Ides of March

After his fling with Cleopatra, Caesar spent the next year mopping up pockets of resistance in Asia Minor and Africa.  In 46 BC he returned to Rome as the undisputed leader of the Roman Empire.  No one opposed him.  Within two years, Caesar was named Dictator for Life.  The time was February 44 BC.  Unfortunately, just one month later he was dead.

We all know the story.  Several Roman Senators, including Cassius and Brutus, decided that Caesar had too much power for one man.  On the Ides of March, 44 BC, 60 men participated in Caesar's murder by stabbing him to death.

What a tragedy it is that the life of the greatest genius produced by Rome was snuffed out by Romans who imagined that they were acting on behalf of their sacred Rome!  Such fools.

History has been very kind to Caesar.  Although the man was often ruthless in the defeat of his enemies, Caesar clearly was Rome's greatest citizen.  Yes, he did rise to great power, but he always used that power strictly to advance the development of the Roman republic.

Caesar, if anyone, deserves to be called a master of politics. He was equally great in understanding general political trends as in directing them. With consummate skill he handled the machinery of political details without ever sacrificing his major aim of winning decisive power. 

And yes, Caesar had made many enemies.  If Caesar had a weakness, it was his lack of modesty.  Caesar relied so much on his prodigious talent to get his way that he overlooked the need for tact.   His
flights of his genius lifted him to a lonely eminence where others were unable to understand his motives.  And in their ignorance, they were terrified of his absolute power.

In the end Caesar did nothing in particular to provoke his murder. Perhaps his greatest mistake was his practice of allowing his enemies to live after he defeated them in war or in politics. 

Caesar will always be remembered for the most famous victory speech in history.  Shortly after his triumph in Egypt, it was time for Caesar to take care of an uprising in northern Turkey.  While he had been preoccupied defeating Pompey, Pharnaces had used the opportunity to conquer Roman cities in Turkey.  It was Roman policy to quell any and all uprisings immediately to prevent giving the idea that rebellion had any chance of success.  However Caesar had been too busy to handle it.

In 47 BC, Caesar left the arms of Cleopatra in Egypt to begin an overland march through the far eastern provinces. Heading towards the trouble with Pharnaces, Caesar traveled through Judaea and Syria, accepting apologies and granting pardons to those foreign kings and Roman governors who had supported Pompey. In so doing, he was also able to rebuild his war chest through the various tributes paid to him.  Pharnaces heard Caesar was coming for him. He begged for peace. 

Caesar would have none of it.  This man would serve nicely as an object lesson for all rebels against the Empire.  As Caesar entrenched his men on the high ground, Pharnaces opted for a surprise attack.  His army left their own strong position on a hill to attack Caesar... who was up on a hill of his own.  What fool attacks Caesar by running up hill?!   After the surprise attack was repulsed, Caesar counter-attacked and routed the enemy.  It was the fastest victory in his career. 

Caesar was so amused by the effortless victory that he later summed it up with
"Veni, Vidi, Vici" -  "I came, I saw, I conquered.'  

Those words as much as any of his deeds capture Caesar's arrogance and brilliance at the same time.  Julius Caesar was one of the most talented men in all recorded history.  I imagine Caesar's hero Alexander the Great pulled out a chair at the table for Caesar when he passed on. 

60 men participated in the execution

Et tu, Brute!



2 Augustus Caesar  (63 BC - 14 AD)
The Man Who Became the First Emperor of the Roman Empire

The rise of Augustus Caesar to Emperor is a remarkable story.  Augustus was no more than a long shot at best.  The odds makers probably would have put it at 10 to 1 or worse.

After the horrible attack on the Ides of March, for several days after Caesar's murder there was an enormous political vacuum.  The conspirators apparently had no long-range plan.  So, in a major blunder, they did not immediately kill Mark Antony (apparently by the decision of Brutus) when surprise was still in their favor. Antony wasn't stupid.  He correctly feared that the dictator's assassination would be the start of a bloodbath among Caesar's supporters. In the turmoil that surrounded the event, Antony escaped Rome dressed as a slave.

Now that he had survived and had his army behind him, Mark Antony was in the perfect position to inherit Caesar's power.  The conspirators had only a band of gladiators to back them up, while Antony had a legion, the keys to Caesar's money boxes, and access to Caesar's will.  Furthermore, as Caesar's right hand man, Antony was already a recognized and respected leader of Rome.  Antony clearly had the inside track to the throne.

Mark Antony had gotten his start as a military leader under Caesar during the conquest of Gaul.  When Caesar decided to patrol the Mediterranean in chase of Pompey, he put Mark Antony in charge of running the affairs of Rome.  Although Caesar and Antony had their differences, Antony had remained loyal to Caesar to the end.  Antony learned of the murder plot just moments before it took place and had rushed to the Forum to warn Caesar.  Alas, Antony was too late. 

Afterwards, Antony was the person who decided to punish Caesar's assassins.  First he negotiated a truce with the assassins by promising them amnesty. But then he turned the tables on them by publicly exposing their role in Caesar's death in a marvelous speech at the funeral. 

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.  (Shakespeare)

The citizens of Rome were outraged to learn the truth.  Now the assassins ran for their lives!

On the other hand, when Antony read Caesar's secret will, he received a nasty shock of his own.  Caesar had named as his chief heir a virtual unknown by the name of Octavian, adopting him (posthumously) as his son.  Octavian who?  Scarcely anyone in Rome had ever heard of him. Antony barely even knew who Octavian was himself! 

Octavian was the grandson of Julius Caesar's sister Julia.  Julia had a daughter named Atia.  Atia gave birth to two children, Octavian and his sister Octavia. To ensure the boy's safety, Caesar had deliberately kept his interest in his great-nephew hidden from the world.  

Gaius Octavian was a short, sickly 17-year-old boy living in Greece when he received two shocking pieces of news.  First he learned that his distant great-uncle, the famous Roman dictator Julius Caesar, had been tragically murdered.  In the same message, he learned that Caesar had named the young Octavian as his heir.  A mere schoolboy with no political experience and no military training had just been named the successor of the greatest civilization in history.

Over the years, his nephew Octavian had impressed Caesar on several occasions.  Obviously Caesar had expected to groom the boy into this role in due time.  However Caesar was unaware of his impending doom and hadn't quite gotten around to telling the boy yet.

The assassination marked a dangerous time for lots of people, much less an inexperienced boy.  How dare he try to step into the famous dictator's shoes!  Octavian had no army.  He had no security guard.  He had no allies or patrons.  He had no reputation.  He had no money either. Octavian had one single thing going for him - Caesar had named him the successor.  But try to claim the prize! 

Octavian would be a marked man for sure. Nevertheless, Octavian was game.  Against the worried advice of his family, Octavian boldly went to Rome to claim his inheritance.

Octavian had a game plan.  He knew a direct trip to Rome would be too dangerous.  Antony would likely have him murdered on the spot. So what if Caesar's will had named young Octavian the legal heir?  What meaning would the document have if Octavian was dead?  Then Antony would have no one to stand in his way from assuming his dead leader's role. 

So Octavian took a detour to Brundisium at the southern tip of Italy.  Stationed here was a sizable army of soldiers loyal to Caesar.  Octavian introduced himself to Caesar's legions.  He showed them documents naming him Caesar's heir.  Caesar had always been good to his armies.  There was great loyalty to the name of Caesar.  The soldiers were impressed by the boy's confidence and courage at such a young age.  Maybe the old man knew what he was doing when he picked young Octavian to take his place.  Why not give the kid a chance? 

After the warm welcome by Caesar's soldiers at Brundisium, Octavian demanded (and received) a portion of the funds that were allotted by Caesar for the intended war against Parthia in the Middle East. This amounted to 700 million sesterces stored at Brundisium, the staging ground in Italy for military operations in the east.  This must have taken some smooth-talking.  Those were public funds. 

Octavian made another bold move in 44 BC.  Without official permission, Octavian appropriated the annual tribute that had been sent from Rome's Near Eastern province to Italy.  Mind you, this was an 18 year old kid making these moves.  Octavian may have been new at this, but he was clearly rookie of the year in Roman politics.

After his initial visit to Brundisium, Octavian began to visit other pockets of soldiers as well.  By emphasizing his status as heir to Caesar. Octavian bolstered his personal forces with veteran legionaries and with troops designated for the Parthian war, gathering support.  Next Octavian won over Caesar's former veterans stationed in Campania.  By June, 44 BC, he had gathered an army of 3,000 loyal veterans.

Now that he had an army behind him, it was time to head to Rome.  Arriving in Rome on 6 May 44 BC, Octavian found the consul Mark Antony, Caesar's former colleague, locked in an uneasy truce with the dictator's assassins.

Now that meeting must have been interesting.  Mark Antony, 44, was a brute of a man, a big guy who knew how to wield a sword, command armies, fend off political enemies, and bed women with apparent ease.  Across the table was a weakling kid who looked more like a nerd than a leader.  This kid was unfazed by Antony's reputation.  Octavian demanded his money from Caesar's estate and asked what Antony had done to chase down Caesar's assassins.   

Don't you wish you could have seen the look on Antony's face?  Surely Antony thought Caesar was a fool for picking this sickly kid.  Did Antony fail to realize Caesar had recognized a quality in the lad that hinted at greatness?  After all, Caesar had spent his whole life evaluating talent. 

Certainly Antony wanted to simply strike the lad down and be done with him, but there was the small problem of that army loyal to the kid outside his door.  

Antony took a harsh attitude towards Octavian because of his age. He even tried to block his inheritance from Caesar.  Octavian failed to wrest any money from Antony that day.  However, at least Octavian got the man to accept his political legitimacy.

Over the next months, more veterans of Caesar's legions were lining up behind their dead leader's chosen heir.  With Antony's acceptance and this military backing, Octavian had now established a foothold in Rome.  Octavian took the name Gaius Julius Caesar, quickly won the allegiance of many of his great-uncle's political supporters, and assumed a role in government. 

Now Octavian took a page out of Caesar's playbook.  If you can't beat them, join them.  Rather than oppose Antony, he persuaded him to join a Second Triumvirate with Lepidus as the third man.  They joined forces to avenge the death of their mutual benefactor.  Together, the three of them would chase down the assassins and any troops loyal to them.  To solidify the relationship, Octavian persuaded Antony to marry Octavian's sister, Octavia, in a show of allegiance.

At first Octavian worked with Mark Antony and Lepidus to track down all of Caesar's murderers.  They defeated Cassius and Brutus in the Battle of Philippi over in Greece in 42 BC. 

Now that Caesar's murderers were eliminated, the three men turned their wary eyes on each other.  They carved up the Roman territories.  Lepidus got Africa, Octavian got Italy and the west, Antony took the east.  There was no further bloodshed for a while, but clearly Pompey was up to no good.

Sure enough, the ambitious Antony joined forces with Cleopatra, ruler of Egypt, and divorced Octavia, sister of Octavian.  Antony had mad his move. He was preparing to dominate the Roman Empire from the East.  With the combined armies of Antony and Cleopatra, he had the military might to do so.  Octavian was well aware of the growing threat posed by the power duo.  Unfortunately for Octavian, the people of Rome were tired of fighting.  So an uneasy truce developed. 

For the next ten years, Octavian was forced to wage a public relations battle.  He made sure that Antony's flirtations with the foreign queen did not sit very well in Rome.    The Roman people began to distrust Antony.  When Antony made a present of Roman territory in the East to his consort, Octavian made sure all of Rome would interpret his actions as 'traitorous.'  This raised even more suspicion against Anthony.  The final straw came on a tip.  Octavian stormed the sanctuary of the Vestal Virgins and forced their chief priestess to hand over Antony's secret will.  It read that Antony intended to give away Roman-conquered territories as kingdoms for his sons to rule, alongside plans to build a tomb in Alexandria for him and his queen to reside upon their deaths. 

Seeing his chance to get rid of his rival, Octavian declared Antony a traitor.  Finally the Roman people were mad enough to follow his lead.  Octavian waged war on Antony and Cleopatra.  In 31 BC, 13 years after the death of Caesar, Octavian finally tracked down Antony and Cleopatra's forces on the Actium promontory in western Greece. 

Forming a blockade, Octavian forced a sea fight known as the Battle of Actium.  Octavian turned to his best friend Agrippa, who was the better military leader, and let him assume control of one of the most famous sea battles in history.  Antony was routed; he and Cleopatra fled back to Egypt with Octavian on their heels.   Octavian and Agrippa then went on to conquer Egypt.  Both Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.  Octavian now used Cleopatra's riches to consolidate his power. 

Upon the demise of Antony, Octavian had finally emerged as the sole master of the Roman world.  The Republic was finally ready to succumb to imperial authority.  In 27 BC the Senate gave him the title Augustus, meaning "revered". 

Augustus would rule the Roman Empire for 45 years until his death in 14 AD.  However this exalted position had not come easily.  As you have read, Octavian was forced to fight an endless series of civil wars over 14 years to achieve this status.  Combined with the Civil Wars of Julius Caesar that started when he crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, the Battle of Actium ended nearly twenty years of bloody battles.  The endless series of Roman Civil Wars read like round after round of preliminaries, semis, and finals in a tournament!  In all, Octavian had to eliminate over a dozen contenders to finally lay undisputed claim the throne of Rome.  It was quite a feat.

Augustus Caesar would become Rome's greatest leader.  He surpassed his gifted predecessor Julius Caesar in many ways.  Although Octavian had nowhere near the military ability of his uncle, he was every bit the equal of Julius Caesar in the area of politics.  Thanks to his largely benevolent rule, Augustus established a period of peace known as Pax Romana that lasted for two hundred years (
27 BC to 180 AD).

Augustus Caesar brought social stability to a region once plagued by constant warfare. Although Roman leaders were forced to extinguish occasional rebellions during this period (for example the Great Jewish Revolt of 68 AD), the interior of the Empire was left completely untouched by civil war or attack by invaders from the perimeter. 

To create 200 years of peace in this brutal age was a remarkable accomplishment!  Although much attention has been given to the tyrannical and often vicious leaders like the Emperors Caligula and Nero, most of the Roman emperors ruled sensibly and competently for the next 200 years.

Indeed Rome had reached the very zenith of its power. Thanks first to the groundwork of Julius Caesar and then to political prowess of his talented nephew, The Augustan Age became a time of lasting prosperity throughout the Mediterranean. 

The greatest legacy of the Pax Romana was the spread of Roman culture to Western Europe such as Gaul, Britain, and Spain.

Under Augustus Caesar's rule, the Roman state began its transformation into the greatest and most influential political institution in European history.  The Romans and their Empire gave cultural and political shape to the subsequent history of Europe all the way through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to the present day. 

The Roman Empire allowed people of many different cultures to retain their heritage into modern times. The Empire helped to perpetuate the art, literature, and philosophy of the Greeks, the religious and ethical system of the Jews, the new religion of the Christians, Babylonian astronomy and astrology, and cultural elements from Persia, Egypt, and other eastern civilizations. 

The Romans supplied their own peculiar talents for government, law, and architecture and also spread their Latin language. In this way they created the Greco-Roman synthesis, the rich combination of cultural elements that for two millennia has shaped what we call the Western Tradition

Rome is where it all started - our language, our culture, our traditions, our laws, and the way we think.   The impact of the Roman Empire endures until the present day. 

Beware the Ides of March: Julius Caesar loses his life

Rome had thrived under Julius Caesar.  Now it was chaos

After Caesar's assassination, Caesar's armies transferred their loyalty to Octavian, a move that Pompey never anticipated. Octavian was still a sickly teenager, but he had the makings of a brilliant politician

Octavian introduces himself to the Senate as Caesar's heir

Octavian chases the murderers of Caesar all the way to Greece

Antony and Cleopatra on the Nile

31 BC  The Battle of Actium -
Octavian defeats Antony thanks to a lot of help from Agrippa

Cleopatra takes her life.  If it seems a lot of people lost their lives during the making of the Roman Empire, that's because they did.

The Greatest Ruler in Roman History - Augustus Caesar

Our Next Story: Life in the Roman Empire After Augustus

Do the power struggles never end in Rome?   After what Augustus had been through to claim his lofty perch, he was determined to establish an orderly succession to his position.  Unfortunately, getting rid of Mark Antony proved far easier than finding a suitable heir!

All kinds of things went wrong.  His main problem was that his most suitable male heirs kept turning up dead.  You would assume Augustus of all people would know better.  Julius Caesar kept the whole world in the dark as to his heir.  Augustus should have learned from his uncle Julius - don't tell anyone who the successor is or risk having them assassinated! 

Augustus had no control over the mysterious death plague that shadowed his male heirs.  However, his greatest blunder was made when he interfered with the love life of his daughter Julia.  Too ridiculous to be true?  Read the story and decide for yourself.

Thanks to his unhealthy preoccupation with the concept of maintaining the Julian bloodline on the throne, ironically, the greatest ruler in Roman history doomed Rome to five of the worst rulers in the history of the Roman Empire because he couldn't understand or control his own daughter.

Read the History of Julio-Claudian Emperors.  You have no idea how insane this story is. 


The Roman Forum Two Thousand Years after its Days of Glory

The Roman Forum of yesterday

Today the Roman Forum is largely in ruins



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