Transformation of Octavian to Augustus. The political turning point of Rome in images

Hausarbeit, 2015
20 Seiten


Table of contents

I. Introduction

II. Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus

III. The Transformation of Octavian to Augustus
-OCTAVIAN: The Battle of Autarchy
-Divi Filius - Self-glorification and Demonstration of Power
-AUGUSTUS: Policy of Peace and the Restorations of the Republic
-Cultural Renovation of the City of Rome

IV. Conclusion

V. Bibliography

VI. Register of Illustrations

I. Introduction

“Art and architecture are mirrors of a society.” (2) Preface l.1)

We can read from images how the culture and comprehension of the world used to be in this time. They are historic documents. Each found picture, coin or statue is a piece of a huge puzzle which is to be solved and which leads us to a better understanding of history.

Besides, they show us the power they had and how one who can use them wisely, can influence and educate the masses with their help.

Art and architecture are mainly the only hint of passed times.

II. Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus

Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus was the first emperor and founder of the Roman Empire.

He was born in 63BC as a son of Gaius Octavius and Atia, niece of Gaius Julius Caesar. His family was wealthy but unimportant. After the early pass away of his father, his great-uncle Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic, adopted Octavian as he had no biological successions. From this point on his power and influence raised constantly (cf. 3) “Jugend”).

It is said that this adoption was his only advantage in the battle of the heir and the autarchy after Caesars death in 44BC (cf. 2) p.33 l.5f.).

III. The transformation of Octavian to Augustus

Octavian and Augustus seem to be two absolutely different persons.

One is cruel and ruthless. He was so focused on getting the sovereign that he couldn’t even be stopped when it came to murdering. His self-glorification could be seen all over the city. He was ambitious and grim to win the autarchy which was legally his. The other one kind was appreciated by the people and elected by the gods, who brought back the peace and security after years of sorrow. He led the Roman Empire into a glory and rich episode and profoundly shaped the cityscape. It is hard to believe that this was one and the same person who changed so dramatically after he gained the autarchy.

OCTAVIAN: The Battle of Autarchy

Caesars death in 44BC caused many problems with the question who owned the power. On the one side there was Octavian, adopted son, on the other side there was Marcus Antonius, highest general, and Marcus Lepidus.

They found the association called the “second Triumvirat”. The provinces of the Roman reign got split up between the “3 male domination for the policy of the state”. The distribution of the land released also a lot of displacements and dispossessions which, of course, made the people angry. Octavian was hated by many owners. In the combat of Philippi they took revenge on the murderers of Caesar. This led to the downfall of the Roman Republic. It was mainly thanked to Antonius that they won the battle. His importance and prestige of the people increased.

In 36BC Octavian reached victory over Lepidus and ousted him from power, as his army defected to Octavian. Now he owned the whole western part of the empire. The East was ruled by Antonius. He allied with Cleopatra and was increasingly criticized for his way of living. He became a public enemy. Octavian could defeat Antonius in the crucial combat of Actium in 31BC. One year later Antonius committed suicide with his mistress Cleopatra, so Octavian was free to take over the autarchy of Rome (cf. 3) “die Bürgerkriegswirren”,”der Kampf um die Alleinherrschaft”).

Divi Filius - Self-glorification and Demonstration of Power

Octavian was a lot handier when it came to the use of images and symbols than his opponents which helped him with his fight for autarchy. "May I succeed in attaining then honours and position of my father to which I am entitled," (2) p.33 l.14f.), he stressed and started by enhancing the remembrance of Ceasar (cf. 1) p.43 l.1f.) by using propaganda of the deification of the murdered (cf. 1) p.43 l.4f). The use of the “sidus Iulium” (a), a comet seen as a symbol of hope and salvation, was quite clever since people used to believe in symbols of heaven (cf. 1) p.44 l.27ff.). In 42BC the dead Ceasar got the admission as a god. He was now called “divius Iulius”, especially Octavian benefitted thereof. Henceforward he could call himself “divi filius”, son of the god (cf. 1) p.44 l.9ff.) His close connection to the divius Iulius was important for his prestige and was frequently marked as for example in coins (b). Antonius once called him “Youth who owned everything to his name” (2) p.33 l.5f.)


In his young years, quite unknown by the people, it was important to gain public appreciation as general and his efforts for the state. A symbol was the statues of honour officially given by the senate and the people. Soon he had an essential political role, got an honourable, and gained the possibility for even higher positions, in the senate later. These tributes were his political breakthrough. The statue was also stamped on coins even before it was finished (c). Other coins show us today that there where many of these statues. Far in advance of the final combat of Actium there can be seen a statue with Octavian having a world ball under his one foot (d). The message is clear: it is his right to own the autarchy as his father did before. The head of a statue, probably copied in the same style many times, shows a young and grim Octavian (e). It can be assumed that this image is quite realistic in the way he actually looked like - different to the representations of the future Augustus. The way of depiction reminds strongly of Hellenistic rulers which contradicts his promises to recover the republic. It stresses the fact that he is eligible for the autarchy (cf. 1) pp.46-52).


It was common that noble families show that they descended from a Greek godhood (cf. 1) p.53 l.25f.). Since the Iuliers built the first temple of Apollo it was clear that Apollo belonged to their house (cf. 1) p.57 l.26f.)

Quite early Octavian started to use his protective god as a symbol and also showed himself dressed up like Apollo. For the next twenty years everything he will do will be influenced by the sign of Apollo (cf. 1) pp.57-61). However, his opponent Antonius chose Dionysus as his god. Not such a good choice as it turned out later (cf. 1) p.53 ll.22ff.). Antonius in general didn’t really know how to work with pictures. He lived wasteful and immoral in the east. This foreign lifestyle displeased the people and reminded them of the former situations that ruined Rome. It was also said that Antonius was bewitched by Cleopatra as he represented himself many times with her in the bodies of Osiris and Dionysus. Dionysus himself threatened Rome before, whereas Apollo always stood to the Romans.

It was easy for Octavian to make himself a name against this weak enemy as a “man of order and moral” in protection of an honoured god.

For the Roman people, Antonius wasn’t one of them anymore, so therefor it wasn’t a civil war for them (cf. 1) p.65).


Besides, in the 30s Octavian was the most important builder of the city, but many monuments were not finished until the final combat.

New and unusual ideas provided attention of the people. He used more decor and special shapes. Everything was explained with “only the best for the gods” (2) p.69 l.8). But of course it was also a competition of who built the higher, bigger and more pompous buildings (cf. 1) p.73f.).

To honour his god Apollo, Octavian built a new temple on the palatine hill above the circus maximus. To demonstrate their close relationship there was built a direct connection via a ramp between the forecourt of the temple and the residential house of Octavian (h) (cf. 1) p.59f. l.15ff.). Only a few years later other developers try to compete with more and narrower columns and costlier decor such as the temple of Diana. But none of them could approach this special arrangement between the house of Octavian and the temple (i) (cf. 1) p.74 ll.9-22).

A symbol of the superlative and Octavian’s self-glorification was, without any question, the Mausoleum he let build for himself. It overtrumped all his kinds and was only comparable with the mausoleum of dynast Mausolos in Halikarnaß which belongs to the 7 wonders of the world (k). Octavian’s Mausoleum was built on the field of Mars, surrounded by a large park what intensified the effect of this giant building (l) (cf. 1) p.80f.).

However, the contradictory forms and lack of a dignified arrangement didn’t make it to great architecture (m). The rush of the building process to demonstrate the power can be clearly seen. The aesthetics got lost in the huge mass (cf. 1) p.83 ll.4-11).

Octavian knew how to make propaganda. Besides all this self-glorification and demonstration of power he also showed the citizens of Rome that under his power the times will be glory. A new water supply which will protect them from pest and epidemic, cleaned cesspools and repaired streets and public buildings, could let them imagine how life would be under this young fighter (cf. 1) p.79).


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Transformation of Octavian to Augustus. The political turning point of Rome in images
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The author of this paper is not a native English speaker. We kindly ask for your understanding concerning any errors or inconsistencies in grammar and expression.
transformation, octavian, augustus, rome
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Corinna Neerpasch (Autor), 2015, Transformation of Octavian to Augustus. The political turning point of Rome in images, München, GRIN Verlag,


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