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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Augustus

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1. The name.-The Lat. name Augustus occurs only once in the Revised Version of the NT, namely in Luke 2:1. The word, cognate with augur, had a sacred ring about it, having been applied (a) to places and objects which either possessed by nature or acquired by consecration a religious or hallowed character; (b) to the gods. It was a new thing to apply it to a human being, and the Senate felt and intended it to be so, when it conferred the title upon Octavian on 16 Jan., 27 b.c. By this title they went as near to conferring deification upon a human being as robust Italian commonsense would allow. ‘It suggested religious sanctity and surrounded the son of the deified Julius with a halo of consecration’ (Bury, A History of the Roman Empire, 1893, p. 13). The official Gr. equivalent of Augustus was Σεβαστός. It is noteworthy that Luke in his own Greek narrative keeps the Latin word, whereas he puts the Greek Σεβαστός into the mouth of Festus (Acts 25:21; Acts 25:25; Authorized Version ‘Augustus,’ Revised Version ‘the emperor,’ Revised Version margin ‘the Augustus’). The difference is important. A Greek Christian like Luke could only use the word Σεβαστός (which meant ‘to be worshipped,’ ‘worthy of worship’) of God Himself: being a Greek, writing his own language, he had not the same objection to the foreign word Augustus, and he had to be intelligible. The absence of θεός (‘god,’ diuus), with the name of the deceased and deified Emperor in Luke 2:1, is also perfectly consistent with the Christian attitude (on Acts 27:1, see Augustan Band).

2. Life.-The Emperor of whom we commonly speak as Augustus was originally named Gaius Octavius [Thurinus], like his father, and was born on 22 Sept., 63 b.c., the year of Cicero’s consulship. The ancestral home of his race was Velitrae (modern Veletri) in the Volscian country, at no great distance from Rome. The family was equestrian and rich, the father of the future Emperor being the first of his race to enter the Senate. He had an honourable and successful official career, attaining to the praetorship and the governorship of the province of Macedonia. He died suddenly, and left three children, one of them the future Emperor (aged 4), whose mother was Atia. This Atia was the daughter of M. Atius Balbus and Julia, the sister of the great dictator Julius Caesar. Augustus was thus the grand-nephew of the dictator. He received the dress of manhood at 15, and was allowed to accompany his grand-uncle to Spain (47 b.c.), where he already showed the quality of courage. Soon after he was sent to Apollonia on the other side of the Adriatic, to pursue his studies. He was still there when the dictator was assassinated, on 15 March, 44 b.c. It was then that he revealed what was in him. Though only eighteen and a half years of age, he, having been adopted into the Julian family by the will of his grand-uncle, whose heir he was at the same time constituted, took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and immediately left for Italy, to claim not only the private but also the public inheritance of his grand-uncle. His great career is best followed in the next section. His private and family history may be summed up here. As a young man he was betrothed to a daughter of P. Servilius Isauricus, but he broke off this engagement, and for political reasons married Claudia, step-daughter of Mark Antony, in her extreme youth. Her he immediately divorced, and afterwards Scribonia, his second wife. Immediately after the second divorce he robbed Tiberius Claudius Nero of his wife, Livia Drusilla (38 b.c.), and with her he lived all the rest of his life. His immediate household consisted of her, her two sons by her previous husband, the future Emperor Tiberius (q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), and Drusus, as well as his own daughter Julia, Scribonia’s child. Julia bore five children to the second of her three husbands, M. Vipsanius Agrippa, namely Gaius, Lucius, Agrippa, Julia, and Agrippina. Gaius and Lucius were adopted by their grandfather, but died early. All his direct descendants in fact died early or disgraced him, and he was forced to fall back on his step-son Tiberius for the succession. Drusus having perished in 9 b.c., Tiberius was compelled in his turn to adopt his nephew Germanicus. Augustus died 19 August, a.d. 14.

3. Official career.-The stages in Augustus’ official career may be summed up as follows. He was recognized by the Senate in 44 b.c.; received praetorian imperium against Antony, on 19 August made consul (though hardly twenty years of age), elected triumuir rei publicœ constituendœ (with Antony and Lepidus) for five years, 43; appointed augur, 37 (or later); first conferment of tribunicia potestas, 36; between 37 and 34 elected XVuir sacris faciundis; 30, fourth consulship (hence annually, with certain exceptions, until the 13th was reached in 2 b.c.); 27, title Augustus and imperial powers; 23, the tribunicia potestas conferred on him for life; 22, a special cura annonœ; 18, imperial powers renewed for 5 years; 16 (before this date), elected septemuir epulonum; 15, coinage of gold and silver for the Empire reserved to Emperor; 12, elected pontifex maximus; 8, imperial powers renewed for ten years; 2, received title of pater patriœ; a.d. 3, imperial powers renewed for ten years, and again in a.d. 13. The ‘deification’ took place on 17 Sept., 14.

4. Achievements.-This bare enumeration marks the steps by which the power of Augustus was gradually consolidated, and with it the Empire itself. The achievements of Augustus which led to this result can only he briefly enumerated. Amongst the most important, because without them nothing further could have been attained, are his military achievements. His military career, with few exceptions, was continuously successful. It began by the driving of Antonius into Gallia Transalpina (43 b.c.), and was followed up by the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (42), the defeat of Sextus Pompeius (36), and the defeat of Cleopatra and Antonius at Actium (31). At this point civil war ends, all his Roman enemies and rivals are removed, and he can give attention to frontier problems. A succession of frontier wars ends in victory for the Romans: in 19 the Cantabri were exterminated, in 15 the Raeti and Vindelici were conquered. The German wars gave great trouble throughout the later part of his reign, in which most valuable help was rendered by his step-sons Tiberius and Drusus. In the earlier period Augustus was most fortunate in possessing such an able lieutenant as M. Vipsanius Agrippa.

In other respects also Augustus was extremely active-in the spheres of law, religion, architecture, and building. He did all he could to restore the sapped virtue of the Italians by his encouragement of family life and his attempts to recover the simplicity of the ancient Italian religion. He was a patron of literature, and was greatly helped in his aims by the writings of Virgil and Horace. In all his schemes for the betterment of Rome, Maecenas, an Etruscan knight, himself a patron of literature, was his right-hand man. Among the important statutes passed were the Lex Iulia de adulteriis (18 b.c.), the Lex de maritandis ordinibus, and the Lex Papia Poppœa-all in the interests of a worthy family life, which Augustus recognized to be the indispensable foundation of a truly great State. The Lex aelia Sentia (4 b.c.) regulated the status of manumitted slaves, a large class of growing influence in the State (see Claudius). Augustus’ interest in religion was shown by his acceptance of several sacred offices, as well as by the restoration of many decayed temples and rituals. His boast that he had found Rome made of brick and left it made of marble probably means no more than that he faced the (regular) brick core of buildings with marble slabs, but he certainly spent vast sums on building. Among the most important monuments of his reign are the Portus Iulius (37 b.c.), the Templum Diui Iuli (29), the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, equipped with public libraries of Greek and Latin literature (28), and the theatre of Marcellus (11). The personal ability of Augustus is sometimes unjustly depreciated. It may be questioned if he owed more than inspiration to his grand-uncle.

5. Administration.-The Emperor’s administration covered not only the whole of Italy, but the imperial (or frontier) provinces, where an army was required. He had financial agents also in the senatorial provinces. The great achievement of Augustus was that he ruled the Roman Empire as a citizen (though the chief citizen, princeps), under constitutional forms. In theory the Empire ceased with the death of the Emperor, but under these constitutional forms he laid the foundations of a lasting despotism. Luke refers in Luke 2:1 to a census of the whole Empire ordered by him. This was one of his administrative reforms, and the census recurred every 14 years. A census of Roman citizens, as distinguished from subjects of the Empire, was taken twice in his reign, in 28 and 8 b.c. Cf. article Caesar.

Literature.-There are many vexed questions connected with the career of Augustus, which will make one always regret that T. Mommsen did not write the fourth volume of his Römische Geschichte, which was to cover Augustus’ reign; cf. however, the second edition of the Res Gestœ Divi Augusti (Berlin, 1883), edited by him; V. Gardthausen’s Augustus und seine Zeit, Leipzig, 1891ff. (2 parts, each in three volumes, first part text, second part notes), has not filled the gap. Chronology of chief events is best given by J. S. Reid in A Companion to Latin Studies (ed. J. E. Sandys, Cambr. 1910), 129ff. The theory of the Empire is best expounded in the same writer’s chapter in the Cambridge Mediœval History, i., Cambr. 1911; a splendid account is found also in H. F. Pelham, Outlines of Roman History, London, 1893; A. v. Domaszewski’s Gesch. der röm. Kaiser, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1909, vol. i. pp. 11-250, by a master of Roman history and antiquities; etc. The chief ancient authorities are the Monumentum Ancyranum, Suetonius’ Life of Augustus, Velleius Paterculus, Appian, Dio Cassius, and the early chapters of Tacitus.

A. Souter.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Augustus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/augustus.html. 1906-1918.

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