August 19th, 2014, marks 2,000 years since the death of the emperor Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire. His real name was Gaius Octavian and he was the adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar, who was assassinated on his way into the Roman senate in 44BC. Following his assassination, Octavian joined forces with Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus to avenge the death of Caesar.
The principal conspirators, Brutus and Cassius were finally defeated at Philippi, in Greece, after which Mark Anthony joined forces with Caesar's lover, the Eqyptian queen, Cleopatra, in an attempt to take control of Rome himself. Anthony's subsequent defeat by Augustus at the battle of Actium was followed by his suicide as well as that of Cleopatra, who placed her hand into a basket of snakes, or so the legend goes!
Following his victory at Actium, Octavian increased his power and influence in Rome and took the name of the Emperor Augustus. His political acumen, together with his immense wealth, allowed him to navigate through the complicated intrigues of the Roman senate and rule the Roman empire successfully for more than 40 years. During this time he was responsible for increasing the size of the empire to include the modern day countries of: Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Albania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. He also enlarged the Roman territories in Eastern Europe, North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East to increase the security of the Empire with an enlarged buffer zone.
Following the defeat of his enemies at Antium, Augustus declared a general amnesty to his enemies which allowed Livia Drusilla, the wife of Tiberius Claudius Nero, one of Anthony's supporters, to return to Rome. Augustus apparently fell immediately in love with her, despite being already married to Scribonia. He divorced his wife and married Livia Drusilla, who was his faithful wife and advisor throughout his reign. Her son Tiberius, from her first marriage, was appointed the heir to Augustus and became the emperor Tiberius. She was also the grandmother of the emperor Claudius, and great-grandmother of the emperors Caligula and Nero.
Augustus had a daughter by his first marriage to Scribonia, called Julia the Elder. After a short first marriage that left her a widow, she married Agrippa, one of Augustus' most trusted generals. Together, they had four children until his death in 12BC. Almost immediately, Augustus made plans for her to marry his step-son, Tiberius. This involved Tiberius divorcing his current wife, Vipsania Agrippina, whom he deeply loved. The marriage with Julia the Elder was not a success and less than 6 years later they were separated.
Even before her marriage to Tiberius, rumours of her adulterous affairs had been circulating. As time went on the rumours became stronger and threatened to become a major scandal. Several of her lovers were sent into exile or forced to commit suicide and Augustus was eventually forced to send her into exile on the island of Ventotene (Pandataria in Roman times). She stayed there with only her mother as company for five years, fobidden to drink wine or see any male visitors. She was eventually allowed to return to the mainland, but Augustus never forgave her and forbad her to be buried in his family mausoleum.
In addition to his military conquests, Augustus reformed the Roman tax system, rebuilt much of the city, established a network of roads with an efficient courier system, established a permanent, standing army, established the Praetorian Guard and created official police and fire-fighting services for Rome. In what was perhaps his most important legacy, Augustus was also credited with establishing the 'Pax Romana', a period of relative peace enjoyed by the Roman Empire for more than 200 years. Prior to that time, there had never been a period of peace lasting that long in human history.
And finally... he also gave us the name for the month of August.