1. The Octavii, by all accounts, were famous in ancient Velitrae. An ‘Octavian Street’ runs through the busiest part of the city, and an altar is shown there consecrated by one Octavius, a local commander. Apparently news of an attack by a neighbouring city reached him while he was sacrificing a victim to Mars; snatching the intestines from the fire, he offered them only half–burned, and hurried away to win the battle. The Velitraean records include a decree that all future offerings to Mars must be made in the same fashion, the carcass of every victim becoming a perquisite of the Octavii.
2. King Tarquinius Priscus admitted the Octavii, among other plebeian families, to the Roman Senate, and, though Servius Tullius awarded them patrician privileges, they later reverted to plebeian rank until eventually Divus Julius made them patricians once more. Gaius Rufus was the first Octavius elected to office by the popular vote – he won a quaestorship. His sons Gaius and Gnaeus fathered two very different branches of the family. Gnaeus’ descendants held all the highest offices of state in turn, but Gaius’ branch, either by accident or by choice, remained simple equites until the entry into the Senate of Augustus’ father. Augustus’ great–grandfather had fought as a military tribune under Aemilius Papus in Sicily during the Second Punic War.1 His grandfather, who enjoyed a comfortable income, was apparently content with municipal magistracies, and lived to an advanced age. These historical details are not derived from Augustus’ own memoirs, which merely record that he came of a rich old equestrian family, and that his father had been the first Octavius to enter the Senate. Mark Antony wrote scornfully that Augustus’ great–grandfather had been only a freedman, a rope maker from the neighbourhood of Thurii, and his grandfather a money–changer. This is as much information as I have managed to glean about Augustus’ paternal family.
3. Gaius Octavius, his father, was from the beginning of his life a man of considerable wealth and reputation; consequently I cannot believe that he was also a money–changer who distributed bribes among the voters in the Campus and undertook other electioneering services. He was certainly born rich enough to achieve office without having to engage in such practices, and he proved a capable administrator. After his praetorship he became governor of Macedonia, and the Senate commissioned him to pass through Thurii on his way there and disperse a group of runaway slaves who, having fought under Spartacus and Catiline, were now terrorizing the district. He governed Macedonia courageously and justly, winning a big battle in Thrace, mainly against the Bessi, and letters survive from Cicero reproaching his brother Quintus, who was consular governor of Asia at the same time, for inefficiency, and advising him to make Octavius his model in all diplomatic dealings with allies.2
4. Gaius died suddenly on his return to Rome, before he could stand as a candidate for the consulship. He left three children: Octavia the elder, Octavia the younger and Augustus. The mother of Octavia the elder was Ancharia; the other two were his children by Atia, daughter of Marcus Atius Balbus and Julius Caesar’s sister Julia. Balbus’ paternal family originated in Aricia, and could boast of many ancestral busts of senators; his mother was also closely related to Pompey the Great. Balbus served first as praetor, and then with a commission of twenty appointed under the Julian Law to divide estates in Campania among the people. Mark Antony likewise tried to belittle Augustus’ maternal line by alleging that his great–grandfather Balbus had been born in Africa, and kept first a perfumery and then a bakehouse at Aricia. Cassius Parmensis similarly sneers at Augustus as the grandson of a baker and a money–changer, writing in one of his letters, ‘Your mother’s flour came from a miserable Arician bakery, and the coin–stained hands of a Nerulian money–changer kneaded it.’
5. Augustus was born just before sunrise on 23 September, while Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius were consuls, at Ox Heads, in the Palatine district;3 a shrine to him, built soon after his death, marks the spot. The case of a young patrician, Gaius Laetorius by name, figures in the published book of Proceedings of the Senate.Pleading his youth and position to escape the maximum punishment for adultery, he further described himself as ‘the occupant and, one might even say, temple warden of the place first touched at his birth by Divus Augustus’. Laetorius begged for pardon in the name of his ‘own special god’. The Senate afterwards consecrated that part of the building by decree.
6. In the country mansion near Velitrae which belonged to Augustus’ grandfather, a small room, not unlike a food pantry, is still shown and described as Augustus’ nursery; the local people firmly believe that he was also born there. Religious scruples forbid anyone to enter except for some necessary reason and after purification. It had long been believed that casual visitors would be overcome by a sudden awful terror, and recently this was proved true when, one night, a new owner of the mansion, either from ignorance or because he wanted to test the truth of the belief, went to sleep in the room. A few hours later he was hurled out of bed by a supernatural agency and found lying half–dead against the door, bedclothes and all.
7. I can prove pretty conclusively that as a child Augustus was called Thurinus [‘the Thurian’], perhaps because his ancestors had once lived at Thurii, or because his father had defeated the slaves in that neighbourhood soon after he was born; my evidence is a bronze statuette which I once owned. It shows him as a boy, and a rusty, almost illegible inscription in iron letters gives him this name. I have presented the statuette to the emperor, 4 who has placed it among the household gods in his bedroom. Moreover, Augustus was often sneeringly called ‘the Thurian’ in Antony’s correspondence. Augustus answered by confessing himself puzzled: why should his former name be thrown in his face as an insult? Later he adopted the name Gaius Caesar to comply with the will of his mother’s uncle, and then the title Augustus, after a motion to that effect had been introduced by Munatius Plancus.5 Some senators wished him to be called Romulus, as the second founder of the city, but Plancus had his way. He argued that ‘Augustus’ was both a more original and a more honourable title, since sanctuaries and all places consecrated by the augurs are known as ‘august’– the word being either from auctus or from the phrase avium gestus (or gustus ).6 Plancus supported his point by a quotation from Ennius’Annals: ‘When glorious Rome had founded been, by augury august.’
8. At the age of four Augustus lost his father. At twelve he delivered a funeral oration in honour of his grandmother Julia. At sixteen, having now come of age, he was awarded military decorations when Caesar celebrated his African triumph, though he had been too young to take part in the war. Caesar then went to fight Pompey’s sons in Spain; Augustus followed with a very small escort, along roads held by the enemy, after a shipwreck too, and in a state of semi–convalescence from a serious illness. This energetic action delighted Caesar, who soon formed a high estimate of Augustus’ character.
Having recovered possession of Spain, Caesar planned a war against the Dacians and Parthians, and sent Augustus ahead to Apollonia, where he spent his spare time studying. News then came that Caesar had been assassinated after naming him his heir, and Augustus was tempted, for a while, to put himself under the protection of the troops quartered nearby. However, deciding that this would be rash and injudicious, he returned to Rome and there entered upon his inheritance, despite his mother’s doubts and the active opposition of his stepfather, Marcius Philippus, aman of consular rank. Augustus now took command of the army and governed the commonwealth: first with Mark Antony and Lepidus and then only with Antony, for nearly twelve years; finally by himself, for another forty–four years.7
9. After this summary of Augustus’ life, I shall fill in its various parts; but the story will be more readable and understandable if, instead of keeping chronological order, I use a topical arrangement.
He fought five civil wars, associated respectively with the geographical names Mutina, Philippi, Perusia, Sicily and Actium. The first and the last were against Mark Antony, the second against Brutus and Cassius, the third against Antony’s brother Lucius, and the fourth against Sextus Pompey, son of Pompey the Great.
10. The underlying motive of every campaign was that Augustus felt it his duty, above all, to avenge Caesar and keep his decrees in force. On his return from Apollonia, he decided to punish Brutus and Cassius immediately; but they foresaw the danger and escaped, so he had recourse to the law and prosecuted them for murder. Finding that the officials who should have celebrated Caesar’s victory with public games did not dare to carry out their commission, he undertook the task himself. Because stronger authority was needed to implement his other plans, Augustus announced his candidature for a tribuneship of the people – death had created a vacancy – although he was a patrician but not yet a senator.8 Mark Antony, one of the two consuls, on whose assistance Augustus had particularly counted, opposed this action and denied him even his ordinary legal rights, except on payment of a heavy bribe. Augustus therefore went over to the optimates, well aware that they hated Antony, especially because he was now besieging Decimus Brutus at Mutina and trying to expel him from the province to which he had been appointed by Caesar with the Senate’s approval. At the urging of certain people, Augustus actually engaged assassins to murder Antony and, when the plot came to light, spent as much money as he could raise on enlisting a force of veterans to protect himself and the commonwealth. The Senate awarded him praetorian rank, gave him the command of this army, and instructed him to join Hirtius and Pansa, the two new consuls, in the relief of Decimus Brutus. Augustus brought the campaign to a successful close within three months, after fighting a couple of battles. According to Antony, he ran away from the first of these and did not reappear until the next day, having lost both his charger and his general's cloak. But it is generally agreed that in the second engagement he showed not only skill as a commander but courage as a soldier: when, at a crisis in the fighting, the standard bearer of his legion was seriously wounded, Augustus himself shouldered the Eagle and carried it for some time.
11. Because Hirtius fell in battle and Pansa later succumbed to a wound, a rumour went about that Augustus had engineered both deaths with the object of gaining sole control over their victorious armies after Antony’s defeat. Pansa certainly died in such suspicious circumstances that Glyco, his physician, was arrested on a charge of poisoning the wound, and Aquilius Niger goes so far as to assert that in the confusion of battle Augustus dispatched Hirtius with his own hand.
12. However, when Augustus heard that Mark Antony had been taken under Lepidus’ protection and that the other military commanders, supported by their troops, were coming to terms with these two, he at once deserted the optimates. His excuse was that some of them had contemptuously called him ‘the boy’, while others had sneered that he should be honoured and then removed9 – to avoid making the due return to his veterans and himself. Augustus showed regret for this temporary defection from his former allegiance by imposing a heavier fine on the people of Nursia than they could possibly meet, and then exiling them from their city; they had offended him by erecting a monument to fellow citizens killed at Mutina, with the inscription ‘Fallen in the Cause of Freedom’.
13. Having formed an alliance with Antony and Lepidus, 10 Augustus defeated Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, though in ill health at the time. In the first of the two battles fought he was driven out of his camp and escaped with some difficulty to Antony’s command. After the second and decisive one he showed no clemency to his beaten enemies, but sent Brutus’ head to Rome for throwing at the feet of Caesar’s statue and insulted the more distinguished of his prisoners. When one of these humbly asked for the right of decent burial, he got the cold answer ‘That must be settled with the carrion birds.’ And when a father and his son pleaded for their lives, Augustus, it is said, told them to decide which of the two should be spared by casting lots. The father sacrificed his life for the son, and was executed; the son then committed suicide; Augustus watched them both die. His conduct so disgusted the remainder of the prisoners, including Marcus Favonius, a well–known disciple of Cato, that while being led off in chains they courteously saluted Antony as imperator, but abused Augustus to his face with the vilest epithets.
The victors divided between them the responsibilities of government. Antony undertook to pacify the eastern provinces if Augustus led the veterans back to Italy and settled them on municipal lands. However, Augustus failed to satisfy either the landowners, who complained that they were being evicted from their estates, or the veterans, who felt entitled to better rewards for their service.
14. At this point Lucius Antonius felt strong enough, as consul and brother of the powerful Mark Antony, to raise a revolt. Augustus forced him to take refuge in the city of Perusia, which he starved into surrender, but only after being twice exposed to great danger. On the first occasion, before the revolt broke out, he had found a private soldier watching the games from one of the seats reserved for equites and ordered his removal by an attendant; when Augustus’ enemies then circulated a rumour that the offender had been tortured and executed, an angry crowd of soldiers began to demonstrate at once and Augustus would have lost his life had not the missing soldier suddenly reappeared, safe and unhurt. On the second occasion Augustus was sacrificing close to the walls of Perusia, during the siege, when a party of gladiators made a sortie and nearly cut off his retreat.
15. After the fall of the city, Augustus took vengeance on crowds of prisoners and returned the same answer to all who sued for pardon or tried to explain their presence among the rebels: it was simply ‘You must die.’ According to some people, he chose 300 prisoners of equestrian or senatorial rank, and offered them on the Ides of March at the altar of Divus Julius, as human sacrifices. There are those who say that Augustus fought because he wished to offer his secret enemies, and those whom fear rather than affection kept with his party, a chance to declare themselves by joining Lucius Antonius; he would then crush them, confiscate their estates, and thus manage to pay off his veterans.
16. The Sicilian war, 11 one of his first enterprises, lasted a long time. It was interrupted by two storms that wrecked his fleets – in the summer too – and obliged him to rebuild them, and by a successful blockade of his grain supplies, which forced him to grant a popular demand for an armistice. At last, however, he got his new ships into fighting condition, with 20,000 freed slaves trained as oarsmen, and formed the Julian harbour at Baiae by letting the sea into the Lucrine and Avernan lakes. Here he exercised his crews all one winter, and when the sailing season opened he defeated Sextus Pompey between Mylae and Naulochus, even though on the eve of the battle he fell so fast asleep that his friends had to wake him and ask for the signal to begin hostilities. This, I think, must have been the occasion of Mark Antony’s taunt ‘He could not even stand up to review his fleet when the ships were already at their fighting stations, but lay on his back and gazed up at the sky, never rising to show that he was alive until Marcus Agrippa had routed the enemy.’ Augustus has also been taken to task for allegedly crying out, when he heard that his fleets were sunk, ‘I will win this war, whatever Neptune may do!’, and for removing the god’s image from the sacred procession at the next celebration of games in the Circus.
It would be safe to say that the Sicilian was by far his most dangerous campaign. He once landed an army in Sicily and was sailing back to Italy, where the bulk of his forces were stationed, when Demochares and Apollophanes, Sextus Pompey’s admirals, suddenly appeared and he just managed to escape them with a single ship. He was also nearly captured in Italy itself: as he walked along the road to Rhegium by way of Locri, he saw a flotilla of biremes heading for the shore and, not realizing that they were Pompeians, went down to greet them on the beach. Afterwards, while hurriedly escaping inland by narrow, winding paths, he faced a new danger. Some years previously he had proscribed the father of Aemilius Paulus, 12 an officer of his staff, one of whose slaves, now seeing a good opportunity to pay off an old score, tried to murder him.
Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirate, whom Augus tus had summoned from Africa to his support, thought himself so important as the commander of twenty legions that, when Sextus Pompey had been beaten, he violently demanded the highest place in the government. Augustus deprived him of his legions, and Lepidus, though successfully pleading for his life, spent what was left of it in permanent exile at Circeii.
17. Eventually Augustus broke his friendship with Mark Antony, which had always been a tenuous one and in continual need of patching, and proved that his rival had failed to conduct himself as befitted a Roman citizen by ordering the will he had deposited at Rome to be opened and publicly read. It listed among Antony’s heirs the illegitimate children fathered by him on Cleopatra. Nevertheless, when the Senate outlawed Antony, Augustus allowed all his relatives and friends to join him under safe conduct, including Gaius Sosius and Titus Domitius, 13 the consuls of the year. He also excused Bononia, a city traditionally dependent on the Antonii, from joining the rest of Italy in taking an oath to support him. Shortly thereafter he defeated Antony in a sea battle off Actium, where the fighting went on so long that he spent the whole night aboard his ship.
In winter quarters on Samos, after this victory, Augustus heard the alarming news of a mutiny at Brundisium among troops whom he had picked from every unit in the army; they were demanding the bounties due to them and an immediate discharge. He returned to Italy, but ran into two storms: the first between the headlands of the Peloponnese and Aetolia, and the second off the Ceraunian Mountains. Some of his galleys went down on both occasions; the rigging of his own vessel was carried away, and her rudder split. He stayed no more than twenty–seven days at Brundisium, just long enough to pacify the mutineers, then took a roundabout route to Egypt by way of Asia and Syria, besieged Alexandria, where Antony had fled with Cleopatra, and soon reduced it. At the last moment Antony sued for peace, but Augustus ordered him to commit suicide, and inspected the corpse. He was so anxious to save Cleopatra as an ornament for his triumph that he actually summoned Psylli to suck the poison from her wound, supposedly the bite of an asp.14 Though he allowed them honourable burial in the same tomb and gave orders that the mausoleum which they had begun to build should be completed, he had the elder of Antony’s sons by Fulvia dragged from the image of Divus Julius, to which he had fled with vain pleas for mercy, and executed. Augustus also sent cavalry in pursuit of Caesarion, whom Cleopatra claimed to be the son of Caesar, and killed him when captured. However, he spared Cleopatra’s children by Antony, brought them up no less tenderly than if they had been members of his own family, and gave them the education which their rank deserved.
18. About this time he had the sarcophagus containing Alexander the Great’s mummy removed from the mausoleum at Alexandria and, after a long look at its features, showed his veneration by crowning the head with a golden diadem and strewing flowers on the trunk. When asked, ‘Would you now like to visit the mausoleum of the Ptolemies?’ he replied, ‘I came to see a king, not a row of corpses.’ Augustus turned the kingdom of Egypt into a Roman province, and then, to increase its fertility and its yield of grain for the Roman market, set troops to clean out the irrigation canals of the Nile, which had silted up after many years’ neglect. To perpetuate the glory of his victory at Actium, he founded a city close to the scene of the battle and named it Nicopolis, and made arrangements for the celebration of games there every five years.15 He also enlarged an ancient local temple of Apollo, and embellished his camp with trophies taken from Antony’s fleet, consecrating the site jointly to Neptune and Mars.
19. Next he suppressed a series of sporadic riots and revolts, besides certain conspiracies, all of them detected before they became dangerous. The leaders of the conspiracies were, in historical sequence, young Lepidus, Varro Murena and Fannius Caepio, Marcus Egnatius, and Plautius Rufus and Lucius Paulus, the husband of Augustus’ granddaughter.16 In addition to these, there were Lucius Audasius, a feeble old man who had been indicted for forgery, and Asinius Epicadus, a half–breed from the tribe of the Parthini, and lastly Telephus, a slave whose task was to remind his noble mistress of her engagements: attempts against Augustus’ life were made by men from even the lowest walks of life. Audasius and Epicadus planned to rescue Augustus’ daughter Julia and his grandson Agrippa from the islands where they were confined and forcibly take them to the legions; Telephus nursed a delusion that he was fated to become emperor and planned an armed attack on the Senate as well as Augustus.17 Then an Illyrian camp orderly, who had managed to sneak by the porters, was caught one night near his bedroom, armed with a hunting knife; but since no statement could be extracted from him it is doubtful whether he was really insane or merely pretending to be.
20. Augustus commanded armies in only two foreign wars: against the Dalmatae while he was still in his teens, 18 and against the Cantabri after defeating Antony. In one of the Dalmatian battles his right knee was struck by a sling stone; in another, he had one leg and both arms severely crushed when a bridge collapsed. The remainder of his foreign wars were conducted by his legates, though during some of the Pannonian and German campaigns he either visited the front or kept in close touch by moving up to Ravenna, Mediolanum or Aquileia.
21. Either as a local commander or as commander–in–chief at Rome, Augustus conquered Cantabria, Aquitania, Pannonia, Dalmatia and the whole of Illyricum, besides Raetia and the Alpine tribes known as Vindelici and Salassi. He also checked the raids of the Dacians, inflicting heavy casualties on them – three of their generals fell in action; drove all the Germans back across the Elbe, except the Suebi and Sigambri, who surrendered and agreed to settle in Gallic territory near the Rhine; and pacified other tribes who gave trouble.
Yet Augustus never wantonly invaded any country, and felt no temptation to increase the boundaries of the empire or enhance his military glory; indeed, he made certain barbarian chieftains swear in the Temple of Mars Ultor that they would faithfully keep the peace for which they sued. In some instances he tried to bind them to their oaths by demanding an unusual kind of hostage, namely women, well aware that barbarians do not feel bound to respect treaties secured only by male hostages. But he let them send acceptable substitutes as often as they pleased. Even when tribes rebelled frequently or showed particular ill faith, Augustus’ most severe punishment was to sell as slaves the prisoners he took, ordering them to be kept at some distance from their own country and not to be freed until thirty years had elapsed. Such was his reputation for courage and clemency that the very Indians and Scythians – nations of whom we then knew by hearsay alone – voluntarily sent ambassadors to Rome, pleading for his friendship and that of the Roman people. The Parthians also were ready to grant Augustus’ claims on Armenia and, when he demanded the surrender of the Eagles captured from Marcus Crassus and Mark Antony, 19 not only returned them but offered hostages into the bargain; and once, because several rival princes were claiming the Parthian throne, they announced that they would elect whichever candidate he chose.
22. The gates of the Temple of Janus Quirinus, which had been closed no more than twice since the foundation of Rome, he closed three times during a far shorter period, as a sign that the empire was at peace on land and at sea. He enjoyed an ovation after Philippi, and again after his Sicilian successes – and celebrated three full triumphs in a row for his victories won in Dalmatia, off Actium and at Alexandria.
23. He suffered only two heavy and disgraceful defeats, both in Germany, the generals concerned being Lollius and Varus. Lollius’ defeat was ignominious rather than of strategic importance, but Varus’ nearly wrecked the empire, since three legions with their general and officers and auxiliaries were massacred to a man.20 When the news reached Rome, Augustus ordered guards to patrol the city and prevent any rising, and then prolonged the terms of the provincial governors, so that the allies should have men of experience, whom they trusted, to confirm their allegiance. He also vowed to celebrate games in honour of Jupiter Optimus Maximus as soon as the situation improved; similar vows had been made during the Cimbric and Marsic wars.21 Indeed, it is said that he took the disaster so deeply to heart that he left his hair and beard untrimmed for months; he would often beat his head on a door, shouting ‘Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!’, and always kept the anniversary as a day of deep mourning.
24. Augustus introduced many reforms into the army, besides reviving certain obsolete practices, and exacted the strictest discipline. He grudged even his legates leave to visit their wives, and granted this only during the winter. When a Roman eques cut off the thumbs of his two young sons to incapacitate them for army service, Augustus had him and his property publicly auctioned; but, realizing that a group of publicans were bidding for the man, knocked him down to an imperial freedman, with instructions that he should be sent away and allowed a free existence in some country place. He gave the entire Tenth Legion an ignominious discharge because of their insolent behaviour, and when some other legions also demanded their discharge in a similarly riotous manner, he disbanded them, withholding the bounty which they would have earned had they continued loyal. If a cohort broke in battle, he decimated it and fed the survivors on barley.22 Centurions found absent from their posts were sentenced to death, like other ranks, and any lesser dereliction of duty earned them one of several degrading punishments – such as being made to stand all day long in front of general headquarters, sometimes wearing tunics without sword belts, sometimes carrying ten–foot poles or even sods of turf.
25. When the civil wars were over, Augustus no longer addressed the troops as ‘comrades’ but as ‘soldiers’, and had his sons and stepsons follow suit. He thought ‘comrades’ too flattering a term, consonant neither with military discipline nor with peacetime service nor with the respect due to himself and his family. Apart from the city fire brigades and militia companies raised to keep order during food shortages, he enlisted freedmen in the army only on two occasions. The first was when the colonies on the borders of Illyricum needed protection; the second when the Roman bank of the Rhine had to be held in force.23 These soldiers were recruited as slaves from the households of well–to–do men and women and then immediately freed; but he kept them segregated in their original companies, not allowing them either to mix with men of free birth or to carry arms of standard pattern.
Most of the decorations with which Augustus rewarded distinguished conduct in the field were valuable silver and gold medallions or collars rather than the vallar or mural garlands24 which brought greater distinction. These garlands he awarded as rarely as possible and with due regard to merit; private soldiers sometimes won them. Marcus Agrippa earned the right to fly a blue banner in recognition of his naval victory off Sicily. The only fighting men whom Augustus held ineligible for decorations were generals who had already celebrated triumphs, even though they might have fought beside him and shared in his victories; he explained that they themselves had the right to confer such awards at their discretion. The two faults which he condemned most strongly in a military commander were haste and recklessness, and he constantly quoted such Greek proverbs as ‘More haste, less speed’ and ‘Give me a safe commander, not a rash one,’ and the Latin tag ‘Well done is quickly done.’ It was a principle of his that no campaign or battle should ever be fought unless more could clearly be gained by victory than lost by defeat, and he would compare those who took great risks in the hope of gaining some small advantage to a man who fishes with a golden hook, though aware that nothing he can catch will be valuable enough to justify its loss.
26. Of the public appointments and honours conferred on Augustus, some he assumed before he was officially old enough and some were extraordinary ones granted him for life. At the age of twenty he usurped the consulship, marching on Rome as though it were an enemy city and sending messengers ahead in the name of his army to demand the appointment. When the Senate hesitated to obey, the centurion Cornelius, the leader of the legation, opened his military cloak, displayed the hilt of his sword, and boldly said, ‘If you do not make him consul, this will!’ Nine years later Augustus undertook his second consulship, and his third after another two years. Having held the next nine in sequence, he declined any more for as many as seventeen years, then sought a twelfth term and two years later a thirteenth – but only because he wanted to be holding the highest available office when his sons, Gaius and Lucius, successively came of age.25 He held his sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth consulships for a full year each, and the remainder for nine months, or six, or four, or three – except for the second: that was the occasion of his seating himself on a curule chair in front of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus early on the Kalends of January and resigning his office to a suffect consul a few hours later. He was absent from Rome at the beginning of his fourth consulship, which found him in Asia; of his fifth, which found him in Samos; and of his eighth and ninth when he was visiting Tarraco.
27. For ten years Augustus remained a member of the triumvirate commissioned to organize the commonwealth, and, though at first opposing his colleagues’ plan for a proscription, yet once this had been decided upon he carried it out more ruthlessly than either of them. They often relented under the pressure of political influence or when the intended victims appealed for pity; Augustus alone demanded that no one be spared, and even added to the list of proscribed persons the name of his guardian Gaius Toranius, who had been an aedile at the same time as his father Octavius. Julius Saturninus has more to say on this subject: when the proscription was over and Marcus Lepidus, in an address to the Senate, justified the severe measures that had been taken but encouraged the hope that greater leniency would now be shown, since enough blood had been shed, Augustus spoke in a quite opposite sense. ‘I consented to close the list’, he said, ‘on condition that I should be allowed a free hand in future.’ Later, however, he emphasized his regret for this rigorous attitude by creating Titus Vinius Philopoemen an eques – Philopoemen had, it appears, secretly harboured his patron, who was on the list of the proscribed.26
Under the triumvirate, many of Augustus’ acts won him people’s hatred. Once, for instance, while addressing a soldiers’ assembly at which a crowd of civilians were also present, he saw a Roman eques named Pinarius transcribing his speech, and had him stabbed there and then as taking too close an interest in the proceedings. Again, a spiteful comment by Tedius Afer, the consul–elect, on some act of Augustus provoked him to such frightful threats that Afer committed suicide by jumping from a height. There was also the case of Quintus Gallius the praetor who, while paying Augustus his respects, clutched a set of writing tablets underneath his robe. Augustus suspected that he had a sword, but dared not have him searched on the spot, for fear of being mistaken, so a little later he ordered some centurions and soldiers to drag him away from the tribunal. Gallius was tortured as if he were a slave, and, though he confessed to nothing, Augustus himself tore out his eyes and sentenced him to death. In his own account of the incident, however, Augustus records that Gallius asked for an audience, attacked him unexpectedly, and was removed to prison; that, being then banished from Italy, he disappeared on the way to his place of exile, but whether he was shipwrecked or ambushed by bandits nobody knew.
The people awarded Augustus lifelong tribunician power, and once or twice he chose a colleague to share it with him for a five–year period. The Senate also voted him the task of supervising public morals and scrutinizing the laws – another lifelong appointment. Thus, although he did not adopt the title of censor, he was privileged to hold a public census, and did so three times, assisted by a colleague on the first and third occasions, though not the second.
28. Twice Augustus seriously thought of restoring the republic: immediately after the fall of Antony, when he remembered that Antony had often accused him of being the one obstacle to such a change, and again when he could not shake off an exhausting illness. He then actually summoned the chief magistrates and the Senate to his house and gave them a faithful account of the military and financial state of the empire. On reconsideration, however, he decided that to divide the responsibilities of government among several hands would be to jeopardize not only his own life but also national security; so he did nothing. The results were almost as good as his intentions, which he expressed from time to time and even published in an edict: ‘May I be privileged to build firm and lasting foundations for the commonwealth. May I also achieve the reward to which I aspire: that of being known as the author of the best possible constitution, and of carrying with me, when I die, the hope that these foundations will abide secure.’ And, indeed, he achieved this success, having taken great trouble to prevent his political system from causing any individual distress.
Aware that the city was architecturally unworthy of its position as capital of the empire, besides being vulnerable to fire and river floods, Augustus so improved its appearance that he could justifiably boast, ‘I found Rome built of bricks; I leave it clothed in marble.’ He also used as much foresight as could have been expected in guarding against future disasters.
29. Among his larger public works, three must be singled out for mention: the Forum dominated by the Temple of Mars Ultor, the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine, and the Temple of Jupiter Tonans on the Capitoline. He built his Forum because the two already in existence could not deal with the recent great increase in the number of lawsuits caused by a corresponding increase in population; this was why he hurriedly opened it even before the Temple of Mars had been completed. Public prosecutions and the casting of lots for jury service took place only in this Forum. Augustus had vowed to build the Temple of Mars during the Philippi campaign of vengeance against his father Caesar’s assassins. He therefore decreed that the Senate should meet here whenever declarations of war or claims for triumphs were considered, and that this should be both the starting point for military governors, when escorted to their provinces, and the repository of all triumphal tokens when they returned victorious. The Temple of Apollo was erected in the part of his house on the Palatine to which, the haruspices said, the god had drawn attention by having it struck with lightning. The colonnades running out from it housed Latin and Greek libraries, and in his declining years Augustus frequently held meetings of the Senate in the nave, or revised jury lists there. A lucky escape on a night march in Cantabria prompted him to build the Temple of Jupiter Tonans: a flash of lightning had scorched his litter and killed the slave who was going ahead with a torch.
Some of Augustus’ public works were undertaken in the names of relatives, such as the portico and basilica of his grandsons Gaius and Lucius, the porticos of his wife Livia and his sister Octavia, and the theatre of his nephew Marcellus. He also often urged leading citizens to embellish the city with new public monuments or to restore and improve ancient ones, according to their means. Many responded: thus the Temple of Hercules and the Muses was taken on by Marcius Philippus, that of Diana by Lucius Cornificius, the Atrium of Liberty by Asinius Pollio, the Temple of Saturn by Munatius Plancus, a theatre by Cornelius Balbus, an amphitheatre by Statilius Taurus, and a variety of magnificent buildings by Marcus Agrippa.
30. Augustus divided the city into districts and wards, placing the districts under the control of magistrates annually chosen by lot and the wards under supervisors locally elected. He organized stations of nightwatchmen to watch for fires; as a precaution against floods, he cleared the Tiber channel, which had been choked with an accumulation of rubbish and narrowed by projecting houses. Also, he improved the approaches to the city, repaving the Via Flaminia as far as Ariminum at his own expense, and calling upon men who had won triumphs to spend their share of the plunder on putting the other main roads into good condition. Furthermore, he restored ruined or burnedtemples, beautifyingtheseandothers withthemostlavish gifts – for instance, a single donation to Jupiter Capitolinus of 16,000 pounds of gold, besides pearls and precious stones to the value of 50 million sesterces.
31. Finally, on assuming the office of pontifex maximus vacated by the death of Lepidus – he could not bring himself to divest his former colleague of it while he was alive – Augustus collected all the copies of Greek and Latin prophetic verse then current, the work of either anonymous or unsuitable authors, and burned more than 2,000. He kept only the Sibylline Books, and edited even these before depositing them in two gilded cases under the pedestal of Palatine Apollo’s image. Since official negligence had allowed the calendar, reformed by Divus Julius, to fall into confusion, he put it straight again, and while doing so he renamed the month of Sextilis after himself (although he had been born in September), because it was during Sextilis that he had won his first consulship and his most decisive victories.27 He increased the priesthoods in number and dignity and in privileges too, being particularly generous to the college of Vestal Virgins. When a death caused a vacancy in this college and many citizens busily tried to keep their daughters’ names off the list of candidates, Augustus took a solemn oath that if any of his granddaughters had been of eligible age he would have proposed her. He also revived certain obsolescent rites and appointments: the Augury of Safety, the office of the flamen of Jupiter, the Lupercalia, the Saecular Games and the Compitalia. But at the Lupercalia he forbade any boys to run who had not yet shaved off their first beards, and at the Saecular Games no young people might attend a night performance unless accompanied by an adult relative. The images of the Lares Compitales were to be crowned twice a year, with wreaths of spring and summer flowers.28
Next to the immortal gods, Augustus most honoured the memory of those citizens who had raised the Roman people from small beginnings to their present glory; this was why he restored many public buildings erected by men of this calibre, complete with their original dedicatory inscriptions, and raised statues to them, wearing triumphal dress, in the twin colonnades of his Forum. Then he proclaimed, ‘This has been done to make my fellow citizens insist that both I (while I live) and the leaders of following ages shall not fall below the standard set by those great men of old.’ He also transferred Pompey’s statue from the hall in which Julius Caesar had been assassinated to a marble arch facing the main entrance of the theatre.
32. Many of the antisocial activities that endangered public peace were a legacy of lawlessness from the civil wars, but some were of more recent origin. For example, bandits infested the roads armed with swords, supposedly worn in self–defence, which they used to overawe travellers – whether freeborn or not– and force them into slave barracks built by the landowners. Numerous so–called ‘workmen’s guilds’, in reality organizations for committing every sort of crime, had also been formed. Augustus now stationed armed police in bandit–ridden districts, had the slave barracks inspected, and dissolved all workmen’s guilds except those that had been established for some time and were carrying on legitimate business. Since the records of old debts to the public treasury had become by far the most profitable means of blackmail, Augustus burned them, also granting title deeds to the occupants of city sites wherever public claim to ownership was disputable. When persons had long been awaiting trial on charges that were not pressed, and therefore continued to wear mourning in public – with advantage to nobody except their gleeful enemies – Augustus struck the cases off the lists and forbade any such charge to be renewed unless the plaintiff agreed to suffer the same penalty, if he lost the case, as the defendant would have done. To prevent actions for damages or disputed claims from either not being heard or being delayed, he increased the legal term by another thirty days, which had hitherto been devoted to supplementary public games sponsored by magistrates. He added a fourth, inferior, division of jurors to the three already existing; these ducenarii, as they were called, judged cases which involved only small monetary claims.29 The minimum age for enrolment in a jury was reduced from thirty–five to thirty years; but, observing a general movement to evade jury service, he grudgingly granted each of the four divisions in turn one year’s exemption and closed all courts throughout the months of November and December.
33. Augustus proved assiduous in his administration of justice, often remaining in court until nightfall, and if he happened to be unwell he would have his litter carried up to the tribunal. Sometimes he even judged cases from his sickbed at home. As a judge, he was both conscientious and lenient: once, to save a man who had obviously committed parricide from being sewn up in a sack30 – because no one can be punished in this way unless he has confessed – he is said to have asked the accused, ‘I may assume, of course, that you did not kill your father?’ On another occasion the witnesses to a forged will were punishable under the Cornelian Law but, besides the usual two tablets for recording their verdict of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’, Augustus handed the jurors a third, for acquitting any of the accused whose signature had, in their opinion, either been obtained by false pretences or attached in error. Every year he referred to the urban praetor cases in which Roman citizens had exercised their right of appeal; the appeals of provincials would be handled by men of consular status whom he had appointed to oversee the affairs of the province concerned.
34. The existing laws that Augustus revised and the new ones that he enacted dealt, among other matters, with extravagance, adultery and unchastity, bribery, and the encouragement of marriage in the senatorial and equestrian orders. His marriage law being more rigorously framed than the others, he found himself unable to make it effective because of an open revolt against several of its clauses. He was therefore obliged to withdraw or amend certain penalties exacted for a failure to marry, to increase the rewards he offered for large families, and to allow a widow or widower three years’ grace before having to marry again. Even this did not satisfy the equites, who demonstrated against the law at a public entertainment, demanding its repeal; whereupon Augustus sent for the children of Germanicus and publicly displayed them, some sitting on his own knee, the rest on their father’s – and made it quite clear by his affectionate looks and gestures that it would not be at all a bad thing if the eques imitated that young man’s example. When he then discovered that bachelors were getting betrothed to little girls, which meant postponing the responsibilities of fatherhood, and that married men were frequently changing their wives, he dealt with these evasions of the law by shortening the permissible period between betrothal and marriage and by limiting the number of lawful divorces.
35. The number of senators had been swollen by a coarse and ungainly crowd: there were more than a thousand – some of them wholly unworthy and enrolled through backroom deals after the death of Caesar, who were popularly known as ‘Orcus Men’.31Augustus restored the order to its former size and repute by two new acts of enrolment. First, each member was allowed to nominate one other; then Augustus and Agrippa together reviewed the list and announced their own choice. When Augustus presided on this second occasion he is said to have worn a sword and a steel corselet beneath his tunic, with ten burly senatorial friends crowding around him. According to Cremutius Cordus, the senators were not even then permitted to approach Augustus’ chair except singly and after the folds of their robes had been carefully searched. Though shaming some of them into resignation, he did not deny them the right to wear senatorial dress, or to watch public shows from the orchestra seats, or to attend the order’s public banquets. He then encouraged those selected for service to a more pious and less inconvenient discharge of their duties by ruling that, before taking his seat, each member should offer incense and wine at the altar of whatever temple had been selected for a meeting, that regular meetings should not be held more than twice a month – on the Kalends and the Ides – and that during September and October no member need attend apart from the few whose names were drawn by lot to provide a quorum for the passing of decrees. He also arranged that personal counsellors should be chosen by lot every six months to assist him in reviewing business which would later be laid before the Senate as a whole. During debates of critical importance Augustus shelved the custom of calling on members in order of seniority, and instead singled out speakers arbitrarily; this was intended to make all present take an alert interest in proceedings and feel responsible for constructive thought, instead of merely rising to remark, ‘I agree with the last speakers.’
36. Among Augustus’ other innovations were a ban on the publication of the Proceedings of the Senate; a statutory interval between the conclusion of magistracies and their holders’ departure to provincial appointments; a fixed mule–and–tent allowance to provincial governors, replacing the system by which they contracted for these necessities and charged them to the public treasury; the transfer of the treasury from the control of city quaestors to that of praetors or men of praetorian status; and the ruling that a board of ten, instead of men of quaestorian status, should convoke the centumviral court.
37. To give more men some experience in the administration of public affairs, he created new offices dealing with the upkeep of public buildings, roads and aqueducts, the clearing of the Tiber channel, and the distribution of grain to the people. He also established the office of prefect of the city, a board of three for choosing new senators, and another for reviewing the troops of equites, whenever this was needed. He also revived the long obsolete custom of appointing censors, increased the number of praetors, and requested not one colleague but two whenever he held a consulship. The Senate, however, refused this last plea, everyone shouting that it was sufficient detraction from his supreme dignity to acknowledge even a single colleague.
38. Augustus showed equal generosity in recognizing strategic skill, by letting full triumphs be voted to more than thirty of his generals and triumphal decorations to an even larger number. Senators’ sons were now encouraged to familiarize themselves with public administration; they might wear purplestriped togas immediately upon coming of age, and attend meetings of the Senate. When their military careers began, they were made not only military tribunes in regular legions but also commanders of cavalry squadrons, and Augustus usually appointed two to the command of each squadron, thus ensuring that no one lacked military experience. He frequently reviewed the troops of equites, and revived the long–forgotten custom of making them ride in procession. Yet he withdrew the spectators’ right of challenging equites to dismount while the parade was in progress, and those who were so old or infirm that they would look ridiculous if they took part might now send their riderless mounts to the starting point and report to Augustus on foot. Later, all equites over thirty–five years of age who did not wish to retaintheirchargerswere excusedtheembarrassment of publicly surrendering them.
39. With the assistance of ten senators, Augustus crossexamined every eques on his personal affairs. Some, whose lives proved to have been scandalous, were punished, others were degraded, but in most cases he was content to reprimand culprits with greater or less severity. The luckiest were those whom he obliged merely to take the tablets handed them and read his censure in silence where they stood. Equites who had borrowed money at a low rate of interest, in order to invest it at a higher, earned his particular displeasure.
40. If insufficient candidates of senatorial rank presented themselves for election as tribunes of the people, Augustus nominated equites to fill the vacancies, but allowed them, when their termofofficehadexpired, eithertoremainmembersoftheequestrian order or to become senators, whichever they preferred. Since many equites had lost so much money during the civil wars that they no longer possessed the property qualification of their rank, and therefore refrained from taking their seats in the fourteen rows reserved for the order, he announced that anyone who had once been a eques or was the son of an eques was not liable to punishment under the law governing theatres.
Augustus revised the roll of citizens, ward by ward. He tried to obviate the frequent interruptions of their trades which the public grain distribution entailed by handing out vouchers for a four months’ supply three times a year; but he was implored to resume the former custom of monthly distributions, and consented. He also revived the traditional privilege of elections, and attempted to suppress bribery by imposing various penalties and by distributing on election day 1,000sesterces from his own funds to every member of his own tribes, the Fabian and the Scaptian, 32 in order to protect candidates against demands for further emoluments.
Augustus thought it most important not to let the native Roman stock be tainted with foreign or servile blood, and was therefore very unwilling to create new Roman citizens or permit the manumission of more than a limited number of slaves. Once, when Tiberius requested that a Greek dependant of his should be granted the citizenship, Augustus wrote back that he could not assent unless the man put in a personal appearance and convinced him that he was worthy of the honour. When Livia made the same request for a Gaul from a tributary province, Augustus turned it down, saying that he would do no more than exempt the fellow from tribute –‘I would far rather forfeit whatever he may owe the imperial exchequer than cheapen the value of the Roman citizenship.’ Not only did he make it extremely difficult for slaves to be freed, and still more difficult for them to attain full independence, by strictly regulating the number, condition and status of freedmen, but he ruled that no slave who had ever been in irons or subjected to torture could become a citizen, even after the most honourable form of manumission.
Augustus even set himself to revive the ancient Roman dress, and once, on seeing a group of men in dark cloaks among the crowd, burst out indignantly, ‘Behold them, conquerors of the world, the toga–clad race of Romans!’, 33 and he instructed the aediles that no one should ever again be admitted to the Forum or its environs unless he wore a toga and no cloak.
41. His generosity to all classes was displayed on many occasions. For instance, when he brought the treasures of the Ptolemies to Rome at his Alexandrian triumph, so much cash passed into private hands that the interest rate on loans dropped sharply, while real–estate values soared. Later he made it a rule that, whenever estates were confiscated and the funds realized by their sale exceeded his requirements, he would grant interestfree loans for fixed periods to anyone who could offer security for twice the amount. He increased the property qualification for senators from 800,000 to 1. 2 million sesterces, and made good the shortfall for those who could not meet it. His awards of largesse to the people were frequent, but differed in size: sometimes it was 400 sesterces a head, sometimes 300, sometimes 250; and even little boys benefited, though hitherto eleven years had been the minimum age for a recipient. In times of food shortage he often supplied grain to every man on the citizen list at a very cheap rate, or occasionally even free, and doubled the number of vouchers.
42. However, to show that he did all this not to win popularity but to improve public health, he once sharply reminded the people, when they complained of the scarcity and high price of wine, that ‘Marcus Agrippa, my son–in–law, has made adequate provision for thirsty citizens by building several aqueducts.’ Again, he replied to a demand for largesse which he had in fact promised, ‘I always keep my word.’ But when they demanded largesse for which no such promise had been given, he issued a proclamation in which he called them a pack of shameless rascals, and added that, though he had intended to make a distribution, he would now tighten his purse strings. Augustus showed equal dignity and strength of character on another occasion when, after announcing a distribution of largesse, he found that the list of citizens had been swelled by a considerable number of recently freed slaves. He gave out that those to whom he had promised nothing were entitled to nothing, and that he refused to increase the total sum; thus the original beneficiaries must be content with less. In one period of exceptional scarcity he found it impossible to cope with the public distress except by expelling every useless mouth from the city, such as the slaves in the slave market, all members of gladiatorial schools, all foreign residents with the exception of physicians and teachers, and a huge crowd of household slaves. He writes that, when at last the grain supply improved, ‘I had a good mind to discontinue permanently the supply of grain to the city, reliance on which had discouraged Italian agriculture, but refrained because some politician would be bound one day to revive the dole as a means of ingratiating himself with the people.’ Nevertheless, in his handling of the food problem he now began to consider the interests of farmers and grain merchants as much as the needs of city dwellers.
43. No one before had ever provided so many, so different, or such splendid public shows. He records the presentation of four games in his own name and twenty–three in the names of other magistrates who were either absent or could not afford the expense.34Sometimes plays were shown in all the various city districts and on several stages, the actors speaking a variety of languages; and gladiators fought not only in the Forum or the amphitheatre, but in the Circus and Saepta as well; or the show might, on the contrary, be limited to a single wild–beast hunt. He also held athletic competitions in the Campus Martius, for which he put up tiers of wooden seats, and dug an artificial lake beside the Tiber, where the present Grove of the Caesars stands, for a mock sea battle. On these occasions he posted guards in different parts of the city to prevent ruffians from turning the emptiness of the streets to their own advantage. Chariot races and foot races and wild beast hunts took place in the Circus, and among the participants were several youths of distinguished family. Augustus also ordered frequent performances of the Troy Game by two troops, of older and younger boys; it was an admirable tradition, he held, that the scions of noble houses should make their public debut in this way. When Nonius Asprenas fell from his horse at one performance and broke a leg, Augustus comforted him with a golden torc and the hereditary surname of ‘Torquatus’. Soon afterwards, however, he discontinued the Troy Game, because Asinius Pollio the orator attacked it bitterly in the Senate, his grandson Aeserninus having broken a leg too.
Even Roman equites sometimes took part in stage plays and gladiatorial shows, until a senatorial decree put an end to the practice. After this, no person of good family appeared in any show, with the exception of a young man named Lycius: he was a dwarf, less than two feet tall and weighing only seventeen pounds, but had a tremendous voice. At one of the games Augustus allowed the people a sight of the first group of Parthian hostages ever sent to Rome by leading them down the middle of the arena and seating them two rows behind himself. And whenever a strange or remarkable animal was brought to the city, he used to exhibit it in some convenient place on days when no public shows were being given: for instance, a rhinoceros in the Saepta, a tiger on the stage, and a serpent some seventy–five feet long in front of the Comitium.
Once Augustus happened to be ill on the day that he had vowed to hold games in the Circus, and was obliged to lead the sacred procession lying in a litter; and when he opened the games celebrating the dedication of the Theatre of Marcellus and sat down in his curule chair it gave way and sent him sprawling on his back. A panic started in the theatre during a public performance in honour of his grandsons; the audience feared that the walls might collapse. Augustus, finding that he could do nothing else to pacify or reassure them, left his own box and sat in what seemed to be the most threatened part of the auditorium.
44. He issued special regulations to prevent the disorderly and haphazard system by which spectators secured seats for these shows, having been outraged by the insult to a senator who, on entering the crowded theatre at Puteoli, was not offered a seat by a single member of the audience. The consequent senatorial decree provided that at every public performance, wherever held, the front row of benches must be reserved for senators. At Rome, Augustus would not admit the ambassadors of independent or allied peoples to seats in the orchestra, on learning that some were mere freedmen. Other rules of his included the separation of soldiers from civilians; the assignment of special seats to married plebeian men, to boys not yet come of age, and, close by, to their tutors; and a ban on the wearing of dark cloaks except in the back rows. Also, whereas men and women had hitherto always sat together, Augustus confined women to the back rows even at gladiatorial shows; the only ones exempt from this rule were the Vestal Virgins, for whom separate accommodation was provided facing the praetor’s tribunal. No women at all were allowed to witness the athletic contests; indeed, when the audience clamoured at the pontifical games for a special boxing match, Augustus postponed this until early the next morning, and issued a proclamation to the effect that women should not attend the theatre before the fifth hour.35
45. He had a habit of watching the games from the upper rooms of houses overlooking the Circus which belonged to his friends or freedmen; but occasionally he used the gods’ platform, 36 and even took his wife and children there with him. Sometimes he did not appear until the show had been running for several hours, or even for a day or more, but always excused his absences and appointed a substitute president. Once in his seat, however, he watched the proceedings intently, either to avoid the bad reputation earned by Julius Caesar for reading or answering letters and petitions during such performances, or just to enjoy the fun, as he frankly admitted doing. This enjoyment led him to offer special prizes at games provided by others or to give the victors valuable presents from his private funds; and he never failed to reward, according to their merits, the competitors in any Greek contests that he attended. His chief delight was to watch boxing, particularly when the fighters were Italians – and not merely professional bouts, in which he often used to pit Italians against Greeks, but slogging matches between untrained roughs in narrow city alleys.
In short, Augustus honoured all sorts of professional entertainers by his friendly interest in them: he maintained and even increased the privileges enjoyed by athletes; banned gladiatorial contests if the defeated fighter were forbidden to plead for mercy; and amended an ancient law empowering magistrates to punish stage players wherever and whenever they pleased, so that they were now competent to deal only with misdemeanours committed at games or theatrical performances. Nevertheless, he insisted on a meticulous observance of regulations during athletic matches and gladiatorial contests, and was exceedingly strict in checking the licentious behaviour of stage players. When he heard that Stephanio, an actor in Roman tragedies, went about attended by a page boy who was really a married woman with her hair cropped, he had him flogged through all three theatres and then exiled. Acting on a praetor’s complaint, he had the pantomime performer Hylas publicly scourged in the hall of his own residence; and he expelled Pylades not only from Rome, but from Italy too, because when a spectator started to hiss, he called the attention of the whole audience to him by giving him the finger.
46. After thus improving and reorganizing Rome, Augustus increased the population of Italy by personally founding twenty–eight veteran colonies. He also supplied country towns with municipal buildings and revenues, and even gave them, to some degree at least, privileges and honours equalling those enjoyed by the city of Rome. This was done by granting the city councillors of colonies the right to vote for candidates in the city elections; their ballots were to be placed in sealed containers and counted at Rome on polling day. To maintain the number of equites, he allowed any township to nominate men capable of taking up army commands reserved for equestrians; to encourage the birth rate of the Roman people, on his tours of the districts of Italy he offered 1,000 sesterces for every son or daughter whom a citizen could produce.
47. Augustus kept for himself all the more vigorous provinces– those that could not be safely administered by an annual governor; the remainder went to senatorial governors chosen by lot. Yet, as occasion arose, he would change the status of provinces from imperial to senatorial, or contrariwise, and paid frequent visits to both sorts. Finding that certain cities which had treaties of alliance with Rome were ruining themselves through political irresponsibility, he took away their right of self–governance; but he also granted subsidies to others crippled by public debts, rebuilt some cities which had been devastated by earthquakes, and even awarded partial or full citizenship to those that could show a record of faithful service in the Roman cause. So far as I know, Augustus inspected every province of the empire, except Sardinia and Africa, and would have toured these too, after his defeat of Sextus Pompey in Sicily, had not a sequence of gales prevented him from sailing; later, he had no particular reason, nor any opportunity, for visiting either province.
48. He nearly always either restored the kingdoms which he had conquered to their defeated dynasties or combined them with others, and he followed a policy of linking together his royal allies by mutual ties of friendship or intermarriage, which he was never slow to propose. Nor did he treat them otherwise than as imperial functionaries, showing them all consideration and finding guardians for those who were not yet old enough to rule, until they came of age – and for those who suffered from mental illness, until they recovered. He also brought up many of their children with his own, and gave them the same education.
49. His military dispositions were as follows. The legions and their auxiliaries were distributed among the various provinces, one fleet being stationed at Misenum and another at Ravenna, to command respectively the western and eastern Mediterranean. The rest of his armed forces served partly as a police force in Rome, partly as a personal bodyguard, for he had disbanded a company of Calagurritani after Antony’s defeat and a company of Germans after the Varus disaster – both of which had served as his bodyguard. However, he never kept more than three cohorts on duty at Rome, and even these had no permanent camp; the remainder he stationed in nearby towns, changing them regularly from summer to winter quarters. Augustus also standardized the pay and allowances of the entire army – at the same time fixing the period of service and the bounty due on its completion – according to military rank; this would discourage them from revolting, when back in civil life, on the excuse that they were either too old or had insufficient capital to earn an honest living. In order to have sufficient funds always in hand for the upkeep of his military establishment and for pensioning off veterans, he formed a military treasury maintained by additional taxation. In order to keep in close touch with provincial affairs, he organized relays of runners strung out at short intervals along the highways, and later a stage coach – which has proved the more satisfactory arrangement, because messengers can be cross–examined on the situation as well as delivering letters.
50. The first seal Augustus used for official documents, petitions and letters was a sphinx; next came a head of Alexander the Great; lastly, his own head, cut by Dioscurides, the seal which his successors continued to employ. He not only dated every letter, but entered the exact hour of the day or night when it was composed.
51. There are numerous positive proofs of Augustus’ clemency and unassuming behaviour. To supply a full list of the political enemies whom he pardoned and allowed to hold high office would be tedious. It will be enough to record that a fine was the sole punishment he awarded Junius Novatus, a plebeian, for circulating a most damaging libel on him under the name of Agrippa Postumus, and that Cassius Patavinus, another plebeian, who openly boasted at a large banquet that he would enjoy assassinating him and had the courage too, escaped with a mild form of exile. Then again, hearing at an inquiry into the case of Aemilius Aelianus of Corduba that the most serious of the many charges brought against him was one of ‘vilifying Caesar’, Augustus pretended to lose his temper and told the prosecutor, ‘I wish you could prove that charge! I’ll show Aelianus that I have a nasty tongue too, and vilify him even worse!’ He then dropped the whole inquiry and never resumed it. When Tiberius mentioned the matter in a letter, with violent expostulations against Aelianus, Augustus replied, ‘My dear Tiberius, you must not give way to youthful emotion or take it to heart if anyone speaks ill of me; let us be satisfied if we can make people stop short at unkind words.’
52. Although the voting of temples to popular governors was a commonplace, he would not accept any such honour in the provinces unless his name were coupled with that of Rome. He even more vigorously opposed the dedication of a temple to himself at home, and went so far as to melt down the silver statues previously erected and spend the silver coined from them on golden tripods for Apollo Palatine. When the people would have forced a dictatorship on him he fell on his knee and, throwing back his toga to expose his naked breast, implored their silence.
53. He always felt horrified and insulted when called ‘Lord’.37 Once, while he was watching a comedy, one of the players spoke the line ‘O just and generous Lord!’, whereupon the entire audience rose to their feet and applauded, as if the phrase referred to Augustus. An angry look and a peremptory gesture soon quelled this gross flattery, and the next day he issued an edict of stern reprimand. After this he would not let even his children or grandchildren use the obsequious word, though it might be only in joke, either when talking to him or about him.
Augustus did his best to avoid leaving or entering any city in broad daylight, because that would have obliged the authorities to give him a formal welcome or send–off. During his consulships he usually went on foot through the streets of Rome, and on other occasions in a closed litter. His morning audiences were open even to the common people, and he behaved very sociably to all who came with requests – once a petitioner showed such nervousness that Augustus laughed and said, ‘Anyone would think you were offering a penny to an elephant!’ On days when the Senate was in session he would not allow the senators to pay their customary call at his home, but would himself enter the Senate House and greet each of them in turn by name, unprompted; and after the conclusion of business he said goodbye in the same fashion, not requiring them to rise. He exchanged social calls with many men and always attended their family celebrations, until he grew elderly and had an uncomfortable experience at a crowded betrothal party. When a senator named Cerrinius Gallus, whom Augustus knew only slightly, went suddenly blind and decided to starve himself to death, he paid him a visit and spoke so consolingly that Gallus changed his mind.
54. Augustus’ speeches in the Senate would often be interrupted by such remarks as ‘I don’t understand you!’ or ‘I’d dispute your point if I got the chance.’ And it happened more than once that, exasperated by recriminations which lowered the tone of the debates, he left the Senate House in angry haste, and was followed by shouts of ‘You ought to let senators say exactly what they think about matters of public importance!’ When everyone was required to nominate one other during the reform of the Senate, Antistius Labeo chose Augustus’ old enemy Marcus Lepidus, then living in exile. Augustus asked, ‘surely there are others more deserving of this honour?’; Labeo answered, ‘A man is entitled to his own opinion.’ Yet Augustus never punished anyone for showing independence of mind on such occasions, or even for behaving insolently.
55. He remained unmoved by the lampoons on him which were posted up in the Senate House, but took trouble to prove their pointlessness; and instead of trying to discover their authors he merely moved that henceforth it should be a criminal offence to publish any defamatory libel, either in prose or verse, signed with another’s name.
56. Though replying in an edict to various ugly and damaging jokes current at his expense, he vetoed a law that would have suppressed free speech in wills. Whenever he took part in the elections, he used to take his favoured candidates with him on a tour of the wards and canvass for them in the traditional manner. He would also cast a vote himself in his own tribe, like an ordinary citizen. If called upon to give evidence in court, he answered questions patiently and did not even mind being contradicted. He made his Forum somewhat narrow because he could not bring himself to evict the owners of nearby houses. He never nominated his sons for office without adding, ‘If they deserve this honour’. Once, while they were still boys and the entire theatre audience stood up to cheer them, he expressed his annoyance in no uncertain terms. Although anxious that his friends should take a prominent share in the administration, he expected them to be bound by the same laws as their fellow citizens and equally liable to public prosecution. When Cassius Severus had brought a charge of poisoning against Augustus’ close friend Nonius Asprenas, Augustus asked the Senate what they wished him to do. ‘I find myself in a quandary,’ he said, ‘because to appear on his behalf might be construed as an attempt to shield a criminal, whereas my silence would suggest that I was treacherously prejudicing a friend’s chance of acquittal.’ With universal consent, he sat quietly for several hours among the advocates and witnesses, but abstained even from testifying to Nonius’ character. He did, however, appear for some of his own dependants, among them a former staff officer named Scutarius, who had been accused of slander. Yet he actively intervened in only one case, and then by a personal appeal to the plaintiff; this concerned Castricius, who had disclosed the conspiracy of Murena.
57. The degree of affection that Augustus won by such behaviour can easily be gauged. The grateful senatorial decrees may, of course, be discounted as to a certain extent inspired by a sense of obligation. But the equestrian order voluntarily and unanimously decided to celebrate his birthday, spreading the festivities over two days, and once a year men of all classes would throw into the Curtian Lake the coins which they previously vowed for his continued well–being. They would also place good luck coins in the Capitol on the Kalends of January, even if he happened to be out of town. With the sum that thus accrued, Augustus bought valuable images of the gods, which he set up in the city wards, among them Apollo of Sandal Maker Street and Jupiter of the Tragedians. When his home on the Palatine burned down, a fund for its rebuilding was started by the veterans, the guilds of minor officials, and the citizen tribes, to which people of every sort made further individual contributions according to their means. Augustus, to show his gratitude for the gift, took a token coin from each heap, but no more than a single denarius. His homecomings after tours of the provinces were always acclaimed with respectful good wishes and songs of joy as well, and it became a custom to cancel all punishments on the day he set foot in Rome.
58. In a universal movement to confer on Augustus the title Father of His Country, the first approach was made by the people, who sent a deputation to him at Antium; when he declined this honour, a huge crowd met him on his return to Rome with laurel wreaths. Finally, the Senate followed suit, but, instead of issuing a decree or acclaiming him with shouts, chose Valerius Messala to speak for them all when Augustus entered the Senate House. Messala’s words were ‘Caesar Augustus, good fortune and divine blessings to you and your family! For this is the best way we know to pray for perpetual joy and prosperity for this commonwealth of ours. The Senate agree with the People of Rome in saluting you as Father of your Country.’ With tears in his eyes, Augustus answered – again I quote his exact words –‘Gentlemen of the Senate, I have at last achieved my highest ambition. What more can I ask of the immortal gods than that they may permit me to enjoy your approval until my dying day?’
59. Augustus’ private physician, Antonius Musa, who had pulled him through a serious illness, was honoured with a statue, bought by public subscription and set up beside Aesculapius’.38 The will of more than one householder directed that his heirs should take sacrificial victims to the Capitol and carry a placard before them as they went, inscribed with an expression of their gratitude for Augustus’ having been allowed to outlive the testator. Some Italian cities voted that their official year should commence on the anniversary of his first visit to them, and several provinces not only erected temples and altars to him and the Roman people, but arranged for most of their cities to hold games in his honour at five–year intervals.
60. Each of the allied kings who enjoyed Augustus’ friendship founded a city called ‘Caesarea’ in his own dominions; and all clubbed together to provide funds for completing the temple of Olympian Jupiter at Athens, 39 which had been begun centuries before, and dedicating it to his genius. These kings would often leave home, dressed in the togas of their Roman citizenship, without any emblems of royalty whatsoever, and visit Augustus at Rome or even while he was visiting the provinces; they would attend his morning audiences with the simple devotion of dependants.
61. This completes my account of Augustus’ civil and military career, and of how he governed his wide empire in peace and war. Now follows a description of his private life, his character and his domestic fortunes, from his youth down to the last day of his life.
Augustus lost his mother while he was consul for the first time, and his sister Octavia when he was fifty–four. He had been a devoted son and brother while they lived, and conferred the highest posthumous honours on them at their deaths.
62. As a young man he was betrothed to the daughter of Publius Servilius Isauricus, but on his reconciliation with Mark Antony, after their first disagreement, the troops insisted that they should become closely allied by marriage; so, although Antony’s stepdaughter Claudia – borne by his wife Fulvia to her ex–husband Publius Clodius – was barely of age, Augustus married her; however, he quarrelled with Fulvia and divorced Claudia before the union had been consummated. Soon afterwards he married Scribonia, both of whose previous husbands had been men of consular rank, and by one of whom she had a child. Augustus divorced her too, ‘because’, as he wrote, ‘I could not bear the way she nagged at me’– and immediately took Livia Drusilla away from her husband, Tiberius Nero, though she was pregnant at the time. Livia remained the one woman whom he truly loved until his death.
63. Scribonia bore him a daughter, Julia, but to his great disappointment the marriage with Livia proved childless, apart from a premature birth. Julia’s first husband was Marcellus, his sister Octavia’s son, then hardly more than a child, and when he died Augustus persuaded Octavia to let her become Marcus Agrippa’s wife – though Agrippa was at the time married to one of Marcellus’ two sisters and had fathered children on her. At Agrippa’s death, Augustus cast about for a new son–in–law, even if he were only an eques, eventually choosing Tiberius, his stepson; this meant, however, that Tiberius must divorce his wife, who had already given him an heir. According to Mark Antony, Julia was betrothed first to his own son Antonius and then to Cotiso, king of the Getae, whose daughter Augustus himself proposed to marry in exchange.40
64. Julia bore Agrippa three sons, Gaius, Lucius and Agrippa, and two daughters, Julia and Agrippina. Augustus married this Julia to the son of Lucius Paulus the censor, and Agrippina to his sister’s grandson Germanicus. He adopted Gaius and Lucius and brought them up in his home, after buying them from Agrippa in a symbolic sale.41 He trained his new sons in the business of government while they were still young, sending them as commanders–in–chief to the provinces when only consuls–elect. The education of his daughter and granddaughters included even spinning and weaving; they were forbidden to say or do anything, either publicly or in private, that could not decently figure in the imperial daybook. He took severe measures to prevent them forming friendships without his consent, and once wrote to Lucius Vinicius, a young man of good family and conduct, ‘You were very ill mannered to visit my daughter at Baiae.’ Augustus gave his grandsons reading, writing and other simple lessons, for the most part acting as their tutor himself, and was at pains to make them model their handwriting on his own. Whenever they dined in his company he had them sit on the lowest couch, and while accompanying him on his travels they rode either ahead of his carriage or one on each side of it.
65. His satisfaction with the success of this family training was, however, suddenly dashed. He found out that both the elder and the younger Julia had been indulging in every sort of vice, and banished them. When Gaius then died in Lycia and Lucius eighteen months later at Massilia, Augustus adopted his third grandson, Agrippa Postumus, and at the same time his stepson Tiberius by means of a curiate law.42 Yet he soon disinherited Agrippa, whose behaviour had lately been vulgar and brutal, and packed him off to Surrentum in disgrace.
When members of his family died, Augustus bore his loss with far more resignation than when they disgraced themselves. The deaths of Gaius and Lucius did not break his spirit, but after discovering his daughter Julia’s adulteries he refused to see visitors for some time. He made the matter known to the Senate through a letter, staying at home while a quaestor read it to them. He may even have considered her execution; at any rate, hearing that one Phoebe, a freedwoman in Julia’s confidence, had hanged herself, he cried, ‘I should have preferred to be Phoebe’s father!’ Julia was forbidden to drink wine or enjoy any other luxury during her exile, and was denied all male company, whether free or servile, except by Augustus’ special permission and after he had been given full particulars of the applicant’s age, height and complexion, and of any distinguishing marks on his body – such as moles or scars. He kept Julia for five years on an island before moving her to the mainland, where she received somewhat milder treatment. Yet nothing would persuade him to recall his daughter from exile, and when the Roman people interceded several times on her behalf, he stormed at a popular assembly, ‘May the gods curse you with daughters as lecherous as mine, and with wives as adulterous!’ While in exile the younger Julia gave birth to a child, which Augustus refused to let the father acknowledge; it was exposed at his orders. Because Agrippa Postumus’ conduct, so far from improving, grew daily more irresponsible, he was transferred to an island and held there under military surveillance; Augustus then asked the Senate to pass a decree making Postumus’ banishment permanent. And whenever his name or that of either Julia came up in conversation he would sigh deeply and cry out, ‘Ah, never to have married, and childless to have died!’, 43 referring to them as ‘my three boils’ or ‘my three running sores’.
66. Though slow in making friends, once Augustus took to a man, he showed great constancy and not only rewarded him as his qualities deserved, but even condoned his minor shortcomings. Indeed, it would be hard to recall an instance when one of Augustus’ friends fell from favour, apart from Salvidienus Rufus and Cornelius Gallus, two nobodies whom he promoted, respectively, to a consulship and the governorship of Egypt. Rufus, who had taken part in a plot, was handed over to the Senate and sentenced to death; Gallus, who had shown ingratitude and an envious nature, was at first merely denied access to Augustus’ home and the imperial provinces, but prosecutions and senatorial decrees eventually drove him to suicide.44 Augustus commended the loyal Senate for feeling as strongly as they did on his behalf, but complained with tears of the unfortunate position in which he was placed: the only man in Rome who could not punish his friends merely by an expression of disgust for them – the matter must always be taken further. However, as I say, the cases of Rufus and Gallus were exceptional. Augustus’ other friends all continued rich and powerful so long as they lived, despite occasional coolnesses, each ranking among the leaders of his order. It will be enough to mention in this context his annoyance at Marcus Agrippa’s show of impatience and at Maecenas’ inability to hold his tongue. Agrippa had felt that Augustus was not behaving as warmly towards him as usual, and when Marcellus, not himself, became the second man at Rome he resigned all his offices and went off to Mytilene; Maecenas was guilty of confiding a secret to his wife Terentia – namely that Murena’s conspiracy had been disclosed.45
Augustus expected the affection that he showed his friends to be warmly reciprocated even in the hour of death. For, although nobody could call him a legacy–hunter – indeed, he could never bear to benefit under the will of a man personally unknown to him – yet he was almost morbid in his careful weighing of a friend’s deathbed tributes. His disappointment if they economized in their bequests to him or failed to make at least some highly complimentary mention of his name was only too apparent, nor could he repress his satisfaction if they remembered him with loving gratitude. But whenever any testator of whatever order left him either legacies or shares in promised inheritances, Augustus at once resigned his rights in favour of the man’s children, if he had any, or in the case of minors kept the money until the boys came of age or the girls married, whereupon he handed it over, increased by the accumulated interest.
67. Augustus behaved strictly but kindly towards his dependants and slaves, and honoured some of his freedmen, such as Licinus, Celadus and others, with his close intimacy.46 A slave named Cosmus, who had complained of him in the vilest terms, was punished merely by being put in shackles. Once, when Augustus and his steward Diomedes were out walking together and a wild boar suddenly charged them, Diomedes took fright and dodged behind his master. Augustus later made a joke of the incident, though he had been in considerable danger, preferring to accuse Diomedes of cowardice than anything worse – after all, his action had not been premeditated. Yet, when one Polus, a favourite freedman, was convicted of adultery with freeborn Roman matrons, Augustus ordered him to commit suicide; and he sentenced his secretary Thallus to have his legs broken for divulging the contents of a dispatch – his fee had been 500 denarii. And because his son Gaius’ tutor and attendants used their master’s sickness and subsequent death as an excuse for arrogant, greedy behaviour in the province of Asia, Augustus had them flung into a river with weights tied around their necks.
68. As a young man Augustus was accused of various improprieties. For instance, Sextus Pompey jeered at his effeminacy; Mark Antony alleged that Julius Caesar made him submit to intercourse as the price of adoption; Antony’s brother Lucius added that, after sacrificing his virtue to Caesar, Augustus had sold his favours to Aulus Hirtius, the governor of Spain, for 300,000 sesterces, and that he used to soften the hairs on his legs by singeing them with red–hot walnut shells. One day at the theatre, when an actor came on the stage representing a eunuch priest of the Mother of the Gods and, as he played his drum, another actor exclaimed, ‘Do you see how this cinaedus regulates the sphere with his finger?’, 47 the audience mistook the line for a hint at Augustus and broke into enthusiastic applause.
69. Not even his friends could deny that he often committed adultery, though of course they said in justification that he did so for reasons of state, not simple passion – he wanted to discover what his enemies were at by getting intimate with their wives. Mark Antony accused him not only of indecent haste in marrying Livia, but of hauling a former consul’s wife from her husband’s dining room into the bedroom – before his eyes too! He brought the woman back, says Antony, blushing to the ears and with her hair in disorder. Antony also writes that Scribonia was divorced for having said a little too much when a rival got her claws into Augustus, and that his friends used to behave like the slave–dealer Toranius in arranging his pleasures for him– they would strip mothers of families or grown girls of their clothes and inspect them as though they were up for sale. A racy letter of Antony’s survives, written before he and Augustus had quarrelled privately or publicly: ‘What has come over you? Do you object to my screwing Cleopatra? She’s my wife, and it’s not even as though this were anything new – the affair started nine years ago. And what about you? Is Livia Drusilla the only woman you screw? My congratulations if, when this letter arrives, you haven’t screwed Tertulla or Terentilla or Rufilla or Salvia Titisenia or all of them. Does it really matter so much where or with whom you get off?’
70. Then there was Augustus’ private banquet, known as ‘The Feast of the Twelve Gods’, which caused a public scandal. The guests came dressed as gods or goddesses, Augustus himself representing Apollo, and our authority for this is not only a spiteful letter of Antony’s, which names all the twelve, but the following well–known anonymous lampoon:
Those rogues engaged the services
Of a stage manager;
So Mallia found six goddesses
And six gods facing her!
Apollo’s part was lewdly played
By impious Caesar; he
Made merry at a table laid
For gross debauchery.
Such scandalous proceedings shocked
The Olympians. One by one
They quit and Jove, his thunders mocked,
Vacates the golden throne.
What made the scandal even worse was that the banquet took place at a time of food shortage, and on the next day people were shouting, ‘The gods have gobbled all the grain!’ or ‘Caesar is Apollo, true – but he’s Apollo of the Torments’– this being the god’s epithet in one city district. Some found Augustus a good deal too fond of expensive furniture, Corinthian bronzes48 and the gaming table. While the proscriptions were in progress, someone had scrawled on the base of his statue:
I do not take my father’s line;
His trade was silver coin, but mine
Corinthian vases –
the belief being that he enlarged the proscription lists with names of men who owned vases of this sort. And during the Sicilian war another rhyme was current:
He took a beating twice at sea,
And threw two fleets away.
So now to achieve one victory
He tosses dice all day.
71. Augustus easily disproved the accusation (or slander, if you like) of prostituting his body to men by the decent normality of his sex life, then and later, and that of having overluxurious tastes by his conduct at the capture of Alexandria, where the only loot he took from the royal palace was a single agate cup – he melted down all the golden dinner services. However, the charge of being a womanizer stuck, and as an elderly man he is said to have still harboured a passion for deflowering girls – who were collected for him from every quarter, even by his wife. Augustus did not mind being called a gambler; he diced openly, in his old age too, simply because he enjoyed the game – not only in December, but on other holidays as well, and actually on working days. That this is quite true a letter in his own handwriting proves: ‘I dined, my dear Tiberius, with the same men, except that Vinicius and the elder Silius were also invited; we gambled like old men all through the meal, and until yesterday turned into today. Anyone who threw the dog or the six put a denarius in the pool for each of the dice, and anyone who threw Venus scooped the lot.’49 And another letter runs, ‘We spent the Quinquatrus very pleasantly, my dear Tiberius, keeping the gaming table warm by playing all day long. Your brother made fearful complaints about his luck, yet in the long run was not much out of pocket. He went down heavily at first, but we were surprised to see him slowly recouping most of his losses. I lost 20,000 sesterces; however, that was because, as usual, I behaved with excessive sportsmanship. If I had demanded all the stakes which I forgave people or kept all those which I gave up to others, I should have been at least 50,000 to the good. Well, that is how I like it: my generosity will gain me immortal glory, you may be sure!’ And to his daughter he wrote, ‘Enclosed please find 250 denarii, which is the sum I give each of my dinner guests in case they feel like dicing or playing “odd and even’’ at table.’
72. Augustus’ other personal habits are generally agreed to have been moderate and unexceptionable. His first house, once the property of Calvus the orator, stood close to the Roman Forum at the top of the Ringmakers’ Stairs; from there he moved to what had been Hortensius’ house on the Palatine Hill. But his new house was neither larger nor more elegant than the first, the low colonnades having columns of peperino stone, and the rooms innocent of marble or elaborately tessellated floors. There he slept in the same bedroom all the year round for over forty years, although the winter climate of Rome did not suit his health. Whenever he wanted to be alone and free of interruptions he could retreat to a study at the top of the house, which he called ‘syracuse’ or ‘my little workshop’. He would hide himself away either here or else in a suburban villa owned by one of his freedmen, but if he fell ill he always took refuge in Maecenas’ house. He spent his holidays at seaside resorts and islands of Campania, or in country towns near Rome, such as Lanuvium or Praeneste or Tibur – where he often administered justice in the colonnades of Hercules’ temple. Such was his dislike of all large pretentious mansions that he went so far as to demolish one built by his granddaughter Julia on too lavish a scale. His own were modest enough and remarkable less for their statuary and pictures than for their landscape gardening and the rare antiques on display: for example, at Capreae he had collected the huge skeletons of sea and land monsters, popularly known as ‘Giants’ Bones’, and the weapons of ancient heroes.
73. How simply Augustus’ home was furnished may be deduced by examining the couches and tables still preserved, many of which would now hardly be considered fit for a private citizen. He is said to have always slept on a low bed, with a very ordinary coverlet. On all but special occasions he wore house clothes woven and sewn for him by his sister, wife, daughter and granddaughters. His togas were neither tight nor full, and the purple stripe on them was neither narrow nor broad; but his shoes had rather thick soles to make him look taller. And he always kept a change of better shoes and clothes at hand: he might be unexpectedly called upon to appear in an official capacity.
74. He gave frequent dinner parties, and very formal ones too, paying strict attention to social precedence and personal character. Valerius Messala writes that the sole occasion on which Augustus ever invited a freedman to dine was when he honoured Menas for delivering Sextus Pompey’s fleet into his power, and even then Menas was first enrolled on the list of freeborn citizens. However, Augustus himself records that he once invited a former member of his bodyguard, the freedman whose villa he used as a retreat. At such dinner parties he would sometimes arrive late and leave early, letting his guests start and finish without him. The meal usually consisted of three courses, though in expansive moods Augustus might serve as many as six. There was no great extravagance, and a most cheerful atmosphere, because of his talent for making shy guests, who either kept silent or muttered to their neighbours, join in the general conversation. He also enlivened the meal with performances by entertainers, actors or even men who gave turns at the Circus – but more often by professional storytellers.
75. Augustus spared no expense when celebrating holidays, and behaved very light–heartedly on occasion. At the Saturnalia, for instance, or whenever else the fancy took him, he whimsically varied the value of his gifts. They might consist of rich clothing and gold or silver plate; or every sort of coin, including specimens from the days of the early monarchy and foreign pieces; or merely lengths of goat–hair cloth, sponges, pokers or tongs – all given in return for tokens inscribed with misleading descriptions of the objects concerned. At some dinner parties he would also auction tickets for prizes of most unequal value and paintings with their faces turned to the wall, for which the guests would bid by table, so that the loss or gain was shared among them; they might either pick up most satisfactory bargains or throw away their money.
76. In this character sketch I need not omit his eating habits. He was frugal and, as a rule, preferred the food of the common people, especially the coarser sort of bread, whitebait, fresh hand–pressed cheese, and green figs of the second crop; and he would not wait for dinner, if he felt hungry, but ate anywhere. The following are verbatim quotations from his letters: ‘I had a snack of bread and dates while out for my drive today’; and ‘On the way back home in my litter from the Regia, I munched an ounce of bread and a few hard–skinned grapes’; and again ‘Not even a Jew, my dear Tiberius, fasts so scrupulously on his sabbaths as I have done today; not until dusk had fallen did I touch a thing, and that was at the baths, before I had my oil rub, when I swallowed two mouthfuls.’ This failure to observe regular mealtimes often resulted in his dining alone, either before or after his guests; but he came to the dining hall nevertheless, and watched them eat.
77. Augustus was also a habitually abstemious drinker. During the siege of Mutina, according to Cornelius Nepos, he never took more than three cups of wine at dinner. In later life his limit was a pint; if he ever exceeded this he would deliberately vomit. Raetian was his favourite, but he seldom touched wine during the day; instead, he would moisten his throat with a morsel of bread dunked in cold water, or a slice of cucumber, or the heart of a young lettuce, or a fresh or dried sour apple.
78. After lunch he used to rest for a while without removing clothes or shoes, one hand shading his eyes, his feet uncovered. When dinner was over he would retire to a couch in his study, where he worked late, until all or most of the outstanding business of the day had been cleared off. Then he went to bed and slept seven hours at the outside, with three or four breaks of wakefulness. If he found it hard to fall asleep again on such occasions, as frequently happened, he sent for readers or storytellers, and on dropping off would not wake until the sun was up; he could not bear lying sleepless in the dark with no one by his side. If he had to officiate at some official or religious ceremony that involved early rising – which he also loathed – he would spend the previous night at a friend’s house as near the venue as possible. Even so, he often needed more sleep than he got, and would doze off during his litter journeys through the city if anything delayed his progress and the bearers set the litter down.
79. Augustus was remarkably handsome and very graceful even as an old man, but negligent of his personal appearance. He cared so little about his hair that, to save time, he would have two or three barbers working hurriedly on it together, and meanwhile read or write something, whether they were giving him a haircut or a shave. He always wore so serene an expression, whether talking or in repose, that a Gallic chief once confessed to his compatriots, ‘When granted an audience with Augustus during his passage across the Alps I would have carried out my plan of hurling him over a cliff had not the sight of that tranquil face softened my heart; so I desisted.’ Augustus’ eyes were clear and bright, and he liked to believe that they shone with a sort of divine radiance: it gave him profound pleasure if anyone at whom he glanced keenly dropped his head as though dazzled by looking into the sun. In old age, however, his left eye had only partial vision. His teeth were small, few and decayed; his hair blondish and rather curly; his eyebrows met above the nose; he had ears of normal size, a nose that was prominent at the bridge and curved downward at the tip, and a complexion intermediate between dark and fair. Julius Marathus, Augustus’ freedman and record–keeper, makes his height five and three–quarters feet; this is an exaggeration, although his body and limbs were so beautifully proportioned that one did not realize how small a man he was unless someone tall stood close to him.
80. His body is said to have been marred by blemishes of various sorts – a constellation of seven birthmarks on his chest and stomach, exactly corresponding with the Great Bear, and a number of hard, dry patches suggesting ringworm, caused by an itching of his skin and a too vigorous use of the scraper at the baths. He had a weakness in his left hip, thigh and leg, which occasionally gave him the suspicion of a limp, but this was improved by the sand–and–reed treatment. Sometimes the forefinger of his right hand would be so numbed by cold that it hardly served to guide a pen, even when strengthened with a long horn fingerstall. He also suffered from bladder pains – which, however, ceased to trouble him once he had passed gravel in his urine.
81. Augustus survived several dangerous illnesses at different periods. The worst was after his Cantabrian conquest, when abscesses on the liver reduced him to such despair that he consented to try a remedy which ran counter to all medical practice: because hot fomentations afforded him no relief, his physician Antonius Musa successfully prescribed cold ones. He was also subject to certain seasonal disorders: right before his birthday he was often under the weather; in early spring he was bothered by a tightness of the diaphragm, and when the sirocco blew by a head cold. These so weakened his constitution that either hot or cold weather caused him great distress.
82. In winter he wore no fewer than four tunics and a heavy woollen toga above his under–tunic, and below that a woollen chest protector and wrappings around his thighs and legs. In summer he slept with the bedroom door open or in the courtyard beside a fountain, having someone to fan him; he could not bear the rays even of the winter sun, but always wore a broad–rimmed hat to protect himself against glare, whether at home or elsewhere. He preferred to travel by litter, at night, and his bearers kept so leisurely a pace that they were two days in arriving at Praeneste or Tibur, and whenever it was possible to reach his destination by sea he did so. Indeed, he pampered his health, especially by not bathing too often and being usually content with an oil rub or a sweat bath, after which he rinsed off with water either warmed over a fire or allowed to stand in the sun until it had lost its chill. When hot brine or sulphur water from the Albula springs was prescribed for his rheumatism he did no more than sit on a wooden bath seat – calling it by the Spanish name dureta – and alternately dip his hands and feet into the bath.
83. As soon as the civil wars were over, Augustus discontinued his riding and fencing exercises on the Campus Martius and instead used to play catch or handball. But soon he was content to go riding or take walks, muffled in a cloak or blanket, that ended with a sharp sprint and some jumping. Sometimes he went fishing as a relaxation; sometimes he played at dice, marbles or nuts in the company of little boys, and he was always on the lookout for ones with cheerful faces and cheerful chatter, especially Syrians and Mauretanians – he loathed people who were dwarfish or in any way deformed, regarding them as freaks of nature and bringers of bad luck.
84. Even in his boyhood Augustus had studied rhetoric with great eagerness and industry, and during the Mutina campaign, busy though he was, he is said to have read, written and declaimed daily. He kept up his interest by carefully drafting every address intended for delivery to the Senate, the people or the troops, although gifted with quite a talent for extempore speech. What is more, he avoided the embarrassment of forgetting his words or the drudgery of memorizing them by always reading from a manuscript. All important statements made to individuals, even to his wife Livia, were first committed to notebooks and then repeated aloud, so that he would avoid saying either too much or too little in speaking offhand. His articulation of words, constantly practised under an elocution teacher, was pleasant and rather unusual, but sometimes, when his voice proved inadequate for addressing a large crowd, he called a herald.
85. Augustus wrote numerous prose works on a variety of subjects, some of which he read aloud to a group of his closer friends as though in a lecture hall: the Reply to Brutus’ Eulogy of Cato,for instance. In this case, however, he tired just before the end – being then already an old man – and handed the last roll to Tiberius, who finished it for him. Among his other works were An Encouragement to the Study of Philosophy and thirteen books of My Autobiography,which took the story only up to the time of the Cantabrian war. He made occasional attempts at verse composition, including Sicily,a short poem in hexameters, and an equally short collection of Epigrams,most of them composed at the baths. Both these books survive; but growing dissatisfied with the style of his tragedy, Ajax,which he had begun in great excitement, he destroyed it. When friends asked, ‘Well, what has Ajax been doing lately?’, he answered, ‘Ajax has not fallen on his sword, 50 but wiped himself out on my sponge.’
86. He cultivated a simple and easy oratorical style, avoiding overly contrived epigrams, affected rhythms, and ‘the stink of far–fetched phrases’, as he called it; his main object was to say what he meant as plainly as possible. An anxiety not to let his audience or his readers lose their way in his sentences explains why he put prepositions before the names of cities, where common usage omits them, and why he often repeated the same conjunction several times where a single appearance would have been less awkward, if more confusing. He expressed contempt for both innovators and archaizers as equally mischievous, and would occasionally attack them sharply – especially his friend Maecenas, whose ‘perfume–drenched ringlets’ he parodied mercilessly. Even Tiberius, who sometimes sought out obsolete and difficult words, did not escape Augustus’ ridicule, and Antony was for him a madman who wrote ‘as though he wanted to be wondered at rather than understood’. He made fun of Antony’s bad taste and inconsistent literary style: ‘Your use of antique diction borrowed by Sallust from Cato’s Origins suggests that you are in two minds about imitating Annius Cimber or Veranius Flaccus. But at other times it looks as though you were trying to acclimatize in Latin the nonsensicalities of those garrulous Asiatic orators.’ And to a letter praising the intelligence of his granddaughter Agrippina he adds, ‘But please take great care to avoid affectation in writing or talking.’
87. Augustus’ everyday language must have contained many whimsical expressions of his own coinage, to judge from autograph letters. Thus he often wrote ‘they will pay on the Greek Kalends’, meaning ‘never’. Another of his favourite remarks was ‘Let us be satisfied with this Cato!’51 He also had a favourite metaphor for swift and sudden actions: ‘Quicker than boiled asparagus.’ Here is a list of unusual synonyms which constantly appear in Augustus’ letters: baceolus for stultus, pulleiaceus for pullus, vacerrosusforcerritus, vapide se habere for male se habere, betizare for languere – on the analogy of the colloquial form lachanizare.52 Among his grammatical peculiarities occur the forms simus for sumus and domos in the genitive singular for domus, to which he invariably clung as a sign that they were his considered choice and not simply a mistake. I have noticed one particular habit of his: rather than break a long word at the end of a line and carry forward to the next whatever letters were left over, he would write these underneath the first part of the word and draw a loop to connect them with it.
88. Instead of paying a strict regard to orthography as formulated by the grammarians, he inclined towards phonetic spelling. Since most writers make such slips as transposing or omitting not only letters but whole syllables, I should not have mentioned that Augustus often did the same but for my surprise on finding, in more than one book of memoirs, the story that he once retired a consular governor for being ill–educated enough to write ixi for ipsi. When Augustus wrote in cipher he simply wrote B for A, C for B, and so on throughout the alphabet, except that he wrote AA for X.
89. He had ambitions to be as proficient in Greek as in Latin, and did very well under the tutorship of Apollodorus of Pergamum, who accompanied him to Apollonia, though a very old man, and taught him elocution. Afterwards Augustus spent some time with the philosopher Areius and his sons Dionysius and Nicanor, who broadened his general education; but he never learned to speak Greek with real fluency, and never ventured on any Greek literary composition. Indeed, if he ever had occasion to use the language he would write down whatever it might be in Latin and get someone to make a translation. Yet nobody could describe him as ignorant of Greek poetry, because he greatly enjoyed Old Comedy53 and often put plays of that period on the stage. His chief interest in the literature of both languages was the discovery of moral precepts, with suitable anecdotes attached, capable of public or private application, and he would transcribe passages of this sort for the attention of his household, generals and provincial governors, and city magistrates whenever he thought it necessary. He even read whole volumes aloud to the Senate, and issued proclamations commending them to the people – such as Quintus Metellus’ On the Need for Larger Families and Rutilius’ On Restricting the Height of Buildings – just to prove that he had been anticipated in his recommendations by far earlier thinkers.
Augustus gave all possible encouragement to intellectuals: he would politely and patiently attend readings not only of their poems and historical works, but of their speeches and dialogues. Yet he objected to being made the theme of any work unless the author were known as a serious and reputable writer, and often warned the praetors not to let his name be vulgarized by its constant occurrence in prize orations.
90. As for Augustus’ superstitions: he is recorded to have been scared of thunder and lightning, against which he always carried a piece of sealskin as an amulet, and he took refuge in an underground vault whenever a heavy storm threatened – because, as I have already mentioned, he had once narrowly escaped being struck by lightning on a night march.
91. Warnings conveyed in dreams, either his own or those of others, were not lost on him: for example, before the battle of Philippi, when so ill that he decided not to leave his tent, he changed his mind on account of a friend’s dream – most fortunately too, as it proved. The camp was captured, and a party of the enemy, breaking into the tent, plunged their swords through and through his camp bed under the impression that he was still in it, tearing the bedclothes to ribbons. Every spring he had a series of ugly dreams, but none of the horrid visions seen in them came true, whereas the few dreams he had at other seasons were more reliable. One day, after he had paid frequent visits to the Temple of Jupiter Tonans, founded by himself on the Capitoline Hill, Jupiter Capitolinus approached him in a dream with a complaint that the newcomer was stealing his worshippers. He replied, ‘I put Tonans so close to your temple because I had decided to give you a doorkeeper.’ When Augustus awoke, he hung a set of bells from the gable of the new building to make it look like a front door. Because of another dream, he used to sit in a public place once a year holding out his hand for the people to give him change, as though he were a beggar.
92. Augustus had absolute faith in certain premonitory signs, considering it bad luck to thrust his right foot into the left shoe as he got out of bed, but good luck to start a long journey or voyage during a drizzle of rain, as a sign of success and a speedy return. Prodigies made a particularly strong impression on him. Once, when a palm tree pushed its way between the paving stones in front of his home he had it transplanted to the inner court beside his household gods, and lavished care on it. When he visited Capreae, the drooping branches of a moribund old oak suddenly regained their vigour, which so delighted him that he arranged to buy the island from the city of Neapolis in exchange for Aenaria. He also had a superstition against starting a journey on the day after a market day, or undertaking any important task on the Nones – although in this case, as he explained to Tiberius in a letter, it was merely the unlucky ‘no’ sound of the word that affected him.
93. Augustus showed great respect towards all ancient and long–established foreign rites, but despised the rest. Once, for example, after becoming an initiate at Athens, he judged a case in which the privileges of the Attic Ceres’ priests were questioned. Since certain religious secrets had to be quoted in the evidence, he cleared the court, dismissed his legal advisers, and settled the dispute in camera. On the other hand, during his journey through Egypt he would not go out of his way, however slightly, to honour Apis,54and he praised his grandson Gaius for not offering prayers at Jerusalem when he was travelling near Judaea.
94. At this point it might be well to list the omens occurring before, on, and after the day of Augustus’ birth, from which his future greatness and lasting good fortune could clearly be prognosticated.
In ancient days, part of the city wall of Velitrae had been struck by lightning, which was interpreted to mean that a native Velitraean would one day rule the world. Confidence in this prediction led the citizens to declare immediate war against Rome, and to keep on fighting until they were nearly wiped out; only centuries later did the world ruler appear in the person of Augustus.
According to Julius Marathus, a public portent warned the Roman people some months before Augustus’ birth that nature was making ready to provide them with a king, and this caused the Senate such consternation that they issued a decree which forbade the rearing of any male child for a whole year. However, a group of senators whose wives were expecting prevented the decree from being filed at the public treasury and thus becoming law – for each of them hoped that the prophesied king would be his own son.
Then there is a story which I found in Asclepiades of Mendes’ Theologumena. Atia, with certain married women friends, once attended a solemn midnight service at the Temple of Apollo, where she had her litter set down and presently fell asleep, as the others also did. Suddenly a serpent crept in to her and after a while glided away again. On awakening, she purified herself as if after sleeping with her husband. An irremovable coloured mark in the shape of a serpent, which then appeared on her body, made her ashamed to visit the public baths any more, and the fact that Augustus was born nine months later suggested that he was the son of Apollo. Before she gave birth, Atia also dreamed that her internal organs were carried up to heaven and overhung all lands and seas; similarly, Augustus’ father Octavius dreamed that the sun rose from her womb.
Augustus’ birth coincided with the Senate’s debate on the Catilinarian conspiracy, and it is widely known that when Octavius arrived late, because of Atia’s confinement, Publius Nigidius, hearing at what hour the child had been delivered, cried out, ‘The ruler of the world is now born.’55 Octavius, during a subsequent expedition through the wilder parts of Thrace, reached a grove sacred to Liber Pater, where he consulted the priests about his son’s destiny. After performing certain barbaric rites, they gave him the same response, for the wine they had poured over the altar caused a pillar of flame to shoot up far above the roof of the shrine – a sign never before granted except to Alexander the Great when he sacrificed at that very altar. That night Octavius had another dream: his son appeared in superhuman majesty, armed with the thunderbolt, sceptre and ornaments of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, crowned with a solar diadem, and riding in a belaurelled chariot drawn by twelve dazzlingly white horses.
Gaius Drusus records that, one evening, the infant Augustus was placed by the nurse in his cradle on the ground floor, but had vanished by daybreak; at last a search party found him lying on the top of a lofty tower, his face turned towards the rising sun. Once, when he was just learning to talk at his grandfather’s suburban estate, the frogs broke into a loud chorus of croaking; he told them to stop, and it is locally claimed that no frog has croaked there since. On a later occasion, as he sat lunching in a copse beside the Campanian road, close to the fourth milestone, an eagle, to his great surprise, swooped at him, snatched a crust from his hand, carried it aloft – and then, to his even greater surprise, glided gently down again and restored what it had stolen.
Quintus Catulus, after rededicating the Capitol, dreamed two dreams on successive nights. In the first, Jupiter Optimus Maximus drew aside one of several boys who were playing near his altar and slipped into the fold of the boy’s toga the image of the commonwealth that he held in his hand. Then Catulus dreamed that he saw the same boy sitting in the lap of Jupiter Capitolinus; he tried to have him removed, but the god countermanded the order because the boy was being reared as the saviour of the commonwealth. Next day, Catulus met Augustus, looked at him with startled eyes – they had never met before – and pronounced him the identical boy of his dreams. Another version of Catulus’first dream is that a crowd of boys were begging Jupiter for a guardian; the god then pointed to one of them, saying, ‘Whatever you need, ask him!’, lightly touched the boy’s mouth, and conveyed a kiss from it to his own lips.
When Cicero escorted Julius Caesar to the Capitol, he happened to tell his friends what he had dreamed the night before: a boy of noble features, let down from heaven by a golden chain, stood at the temple door and was handed a whip by Jupiter. At that moment Cicero’s eye caught Augustus, whom his grand–uncle Caesar had brought to the ceremony but whom few of those present knew by sight. He cried, ‘There goes the very boy!’
When Augustus celebrated his coming of age, the seams of his senatorial tunic split and it fell at his feet. Some people interpreted the accident as a sign that the senatorial order itself would some day be brought to his feet.
As Divus Julius was felling a wood near Munda to clear a site for his camp, he noticed a palm tree and ordered it to be spared, palm fronds being a presage of victory. The tree then suddenly put out a new shoot which, a few days later, had grown so tall as to overshadow it. What was more, a flock of doves began to nest in the fronds, although doves notoriously dislike hard, spiny foliage. This prodigy was the immediate reason, they say, for Caesar’s desire that his grand–nephew, and no one else, should succeed him.
At Apollonia, Augustus and Agrippa together visited the house of Theogenes the astrologer, and climbed upstairs to his observatory; they both wished to consult him about their future careers. Agrippa went first and was prophesied such almost incredibly good fortune that Augustus expected a far less encouraging response, and felt ashamed to disclose his nativity. Yet when at last, after a good deal of hesitation, he grudgingly supplied the information for which both were pressing him, Theogenes rose and flung himself at his feet; and this gave Augustus so implicit a faith in the destiny awaiting him that he even ventured to publish his horoscope, and struck a silver coin stamped with Capricorn, the sign under which he had been born.
95. When he returned to Rome from Apollonia at news of Caesar’s assassination, the sky was clear of clouds, but a rainbow–like halo formed around the sun, and suddenly lightning struck the tomb of Caesar’s daughter Julia. Then, when he first took the auspices as consul, twelve vultures appeared to him just as they had to Romulus, and the livers of all the sacrificial victims were seen to be doubled inwards at the bottom – an omen which, experts agreed, presaged a wonderful future for him.
96. Augustus even foresaw the successful conclusion of all his wars. At Bononia, where the army of the triumvirs had assembled, an eagle perched on Augustus’ tent and defended itself vigorously against the converging attack of two ravens, bringing both of them down. This augury was understood by the troops as portending a rupture between their three leaders, the outcome of which would be obvious. On Augustus’ way to Philippi, a Thessalian stopped him to report that he had been assured of victory by Caesar’s ghost, whom he met on a lonely road. Sacrificing one day before the walls of Perusia, Augustus had failed to secure a satisfactory omen, and sent for more victims; at this point the enemy made a sudden sortie from the beleaguered city and carried off the entire sacrificial apparatus, including the carcasses. The haruspices unanimously reassured him that whatever disasters had been threatened by the omens would fall upon their present possessors, and this proved to be true. On the eve of the naval battle off Sicily, Augustus was walking along the shore when a fish leaped from the sea and fell at his feet. Before Actium, he was about to board his ship and give the signal for hostilities to begin when he met a peasant driving an ass, and asked his name. The peasant replied, ‘Iam Eutychus and my ass is called Nicon.’56 To commemorate the victory, Augustus set up bronze statues of Eutychus and his ass on the camp site, which he now dedicated to Mars and Neptune.
97. Next we come to Augustus’ death and subsequent deification, both of which were predicted by evident signs. While he was closing a census period with a purificatory ceremony in the crowded Campus Martius, an eagle circled around him several times, then flew to the nearby temple and perched above the first ‘A’ of Agrippa’s name. As soon as Augustus noticed this, he ordered Tiberius, who was acting as his colleague, to read out the usual vows for the next census period, because, though having composed and recorded them on a tablet, he would not make himself responsible for vows payable after his death. At about the same time lightning melted the initial letter of his name on the inscription below one of his statues. This was interpreted to mean that he would live only another hundred days, which the letter ‘C’ signifies, and that he would be enrolled among the gods, since the remainder of the word, namely AESAR, is the Etruscan for ‘god’.
Again, when sending Tiberius off to Illyricum and planning to accompany him as far as Beneventum, Augustus got held up by a long list of court cases and cried, ‘I will stay here no longer, whoever tries to detain me!’ These words were subsequently recalled as prophetic. He started off for Beneventum, but on reaching Astura he met with a favourable breeze and decided to take ship that evening – although night voyages were against his usual habits – and so contracted an illness, the first symptom of which was diarrhoea.
98. After coasting past Campania, with its islands, he spent the next four days in his villa on Capreae, where he rested and amused himself. As he had sailed through the bay of Puteoli, the passengers and crew of a recently arrived Alexandrian ship had put on white robes and garlands, burned incense, and wished him the greatest of good fortune: it was to him, they said, that they owed their lives and their liberty to sail the seas, to him they owed their entire freedom and prosperity. This incident gratified Augustus so deeply that he gave each member of his staff forty aurei, making them promise under oath to spend them only on Alexandrian trade goods. What was more, he made the last two or three days of his stay on Capreae the occasion for distributing among other presents Roman togas and Greek mantles, insisting that the Romans should speak and dress like Greeks, and that the Greeks should do the opposite. He sat for a long time watching the athletic training of the many local ephebes, Capreae being a very conservative settlement.57 Afterwards he invited these young men to a banquet at which he presided, and not merely allowed but expected them to play jokes and freely scramble for the tokens which he threw, entitling the holders to fruit, sweetmeats and the like. In short, he indulged in every form of fun.
Augustus called Capreae ‘Lubberland’, because some of his staff, now settled on the island, were growing so lazy. One of his friends, Masgaba by name, he always used to call by the Greek word for ‘Founder’, as though he were the founder of the settlement. This fellow had died the year before, and when Augustus noticed from his dining room window that a crowd of torch–bearers were attending his tomb he improvised this Greek line, ‘I see the Founder’s tomb ablaze with fire,’ then asked Tiberius’ friend Thrasyllus, who was reclining opposite him and did not understand the reference, ‘What poet wrote that?’ Thrasyllus hesitated, and Augustus capped his own line, reciting, ‘With torches, look, they honour Masgaba!’, and again asked, ‘Who wrote that?’ Thrasyllus, unable to divine the authorship, mumbled, ‘Both lines are very good, whoever the poet was.’ Augustus burst out laughing and made great fun of Thrasyllus.
He next crossed over to Neapolis, although his stomach was weak from an intermittent recurrence of the same trouble, and watched an athletic competition which was held in his honour every five years. Finally he started off with Tiberius and said goodbye to him at Beneventum. Feeling worse on the homeward journey, he took to his bed at Nola, and sent messengers to recall Tiberius from his journey. At his arrival Augustus had a long talk with him in private, after which he attended to no further important business.
99. On the day that he died, Augustus frequently enquired whether rumours of his illness were causing any popular disturbance. He called for a mirror, and had his hair combed and his lower jaw, which had fallen from weakness, propped up. Presently he summoned a group of friends and asked, ‘Have I played my part in the farce of life creditably enough?’, adding the theatrical tag:
If I have pleased you, kindly signify
Appreciation with a warm goodbye.
Then he dismissed them, but when fresh visitors arrived from Rome he wanted to hear the latest news of Drusus’ daughter, who was ill. Finally he kissed his wife with ‘Goodbye, Livia; remember our marriage!’, and died almost at once. He must have longed for such an easy exit, for whenever he had heard of anyone having passed away quickly and painlessly he used to pray, ‘May Heaven grant the same euthanasia to me and mine!’ The only sign that his wits were wandering, just before he died, was his sudden cry of terror ‘Forty young men are carrying me off !’ But even this may be read as a prophecy rather than a delusion, because forty praetorians were to form the guard of honour that conveyed him to his lying–in–state.
100. Augustus died in the same room as his father Octavius. That was 19 August at about the ninth hour, the consuls of the year being Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius, 58 when he was just thirty–five days short of his seventy–sixth year. City councillors from the neighbouring municipalities and colonies bore the body in stages all the way from Nola to Bovillae – but at night, owing to the hot weather – laying it during the day in the town hall or principal temple of every halting place. From Bovillae, a party of Roman equites carried it to the vestibule of his house at Rome.
The senators vied with one another in proposing posthumous honours for Augustus. Among the motions introduced were the following: that his funeral procession should pass through the Triumphal Gate preceded by the image of Victory from the Senate House, and that the sons and daughters of leading citizens should sing his dirge; that on the day of his cremation iron rings should be worn instead of gold ones; that his ashes should be gathered by priests of the leading colleges; that the name August should be transferred to September, because Augustus had been born in September but had died in the month now called August; and that the period between his birth and death should be officially entered in the calendar as ‘the Augustan Age’. But such excessive proposals were kept in check, and he was given two funeral eulogies, by Tiberius before the Temple of Divus Julius and by Tiberius’ son Drusus from the original Rostra; afterwards a party of senators shouldered the body and took it to a pyre on the Campus Martius, where it was burned. Furthermore, a man of praetorian rank actually swore that he had seen Augustus’ spirit soaring up to heaven through the flames. Leading equites, barefoot and wearing unbelted tunics, then collected his ashes and placed them in the family Mausoleum. He had built this himself during his sixth consulship, between the Via Flaminia and the Tiber, at the same time converting the neighbourhood into a public park.
101. Augustus’ will, composed on 3 April of the previous year, when Lucius Plancus and Gaius Silius were consuls, occupied two notebooks, written partly in his own hand, partly in those of his freedmen Polybius and Hilarion. The Vestal Virgins, to whose safekeeping he had entrusted these documents, now produced them, as well as three rolls also sealed by him. All were opened and read in the Senate. It proved that he had appointed Tiberius and Livia as heirs in the first degree, with Tiberius taking two–thirds of his estate and Livia one–third, and both adopting his name; as heirs in the second degree he named Tiberius’ son Drusus, taking one–third of the estate, and Germanicus and his three male children, taking the remainder; as heirs in the third degree, 59 many of his relatives and friends.
He also left a bequest of 40 million sesterces to the Roman people, 3. 5 million to the tribes, 1,000 to every praetorian guard, 500 to every member of the urban cohorts, 300 to every legionary soldier. These legacies were to be paid at once, because he had always kept enough cash for the purpose. There were other minor bequests, some as large as 2 million sesterces, which were not to be settled until a year after his death because ‘my estate is not large; indeed, my heirs will not receive more than 150 million sesterces; for, although my friends have bequeathed me some 1,400 million in the last twenty years, nearly the whole of this sum, besides what came to me from my father, from my adoptive father, and from others, has been used in the public interest.’
He had given orders that if anything happened to his daughter Julia or his granddaughter of the same name their bodies must be excluded from the Mausoleum. One of the three sealed rolls contained directions for his own funeral; another a record of his accomplishments, 60 which he wished to have engraved on bronze and posted at the entrance to the Mausoleum; the third an account book of the whole empire, with statements of how many troops were stationed and in what places, what money reserves were held by the public treasury and the imperial exchequer, and what revenues were due for collection. He also supplied the names of freedmen and slave secretaries who could furnish details under all these heads on demand.