Augustus was the first and perhaps the greatest of
the Roman emperors, rising to power in the aftermath
of the fall of the Roman Republic. The
adopted son and successor of Julius CAESAR, Augustus
brought stability and peace to Rome, ushering
in an era of tranquillity known as the Pax
Romana, or “Roman Peace.” Augustus was also a
writer of some talent, but his most important contributions
to the world of literature came from his
support and encouragement of some of the greatest
writers the Western world has ever produced.
Born Gaius Octavius, Augustus came from a
distinguished family and received an excellent education.
He was fascinated by philosophy and literature
and initially possessed a rather introverted
personality. As a young man, he served with his
great-uncle, Caesar, although his political and military
roles were limited.When Caesar was assassinated
in 44 B.C., Augustus was surprised to
discover that he had been made Caesar’s heir, after
which he became Gaius Julius Caesar.
Over the next several years, Augustus was engaged
in a bitter political and military struggle,
first with Caesar’s assassins, then with his rival for
power, Marcus Antony. In 31 B.C., at the decisive
Battle of Actium, the forces of Antony were defeated
and Augustus had emerged as the single
most powerful man in the Roman world.
In 27 B.C., the Roman Senate surrendered virtually
all its power to Augustus, who thereafter ruled
as emperor. This is the traditional date for the end
of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the
Roman Empire. For the remaining four decades of
his life, Augustus would use his power to reform
the government of the Empire and bring order to
the entire Mediterranean region. He launched a
sweeping program of construction that beautified
the city of Rome itself, improved the transportation
and communication systems in the Imperial
provinces, developed the economy, and reformed
the military. By the time of his death, the Roman
Empire was peaceful and prosperous.
Augustus was deeply interested in literature and
commissioned several writers to produce works
that glorified Roman achievement. By far the most
famous of these works was the Aeniad, written by
Rome’s greatest poet, VIRGIL. The author had left
instructions that the epic poem be destroyed when
he died, but Augustus ordered that it be preserved,
thus saving one of the great works of classical literature.
Augustus also supported the work of LIVY and
HORACE. Most writers found Augustus to be an extremely
positive influence and welcomed the gift of
peace he had brought to their world. For reasons
which remain unclear, the emperor quarreled with
the writer OVID, but the general attitude of Augustus
toward the great authors of his day was one of
encouragement and assistance. This greatly furthered
the literary arts of Rome, which has deeply
influenced Western literature to the present day.
Augustus was himself a writer, although most of
the work he produced has been lost.He penned an
autobiography and at least one poem and one play.
His only extant work is Res Gestae Divi Augusti, or
“Acts of the Divine Augustus.”This was his last will
and testament, in which he described for posterity
what he believed his greatest achievements were. It
is in this work that he makes the celebrated remark
that he found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city
An English Version of a Work by Augustus
Res Gestae Divi Augusti: English and Latin. Translated
by P. A. Brunt and J. M. Moore. London: Oxford
University Press, 1967.
Works about Augustus
Forsyth, Fiona. Augustus: The First Emperor. New
York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.
Severy, Beth. Augustus and the Family at the Birth of
the Roman Empire. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Southern, Pat. Augustus. New York: Routledge, 1998.