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Emperor Augustus
aka: Augustus
"Don't make me come up there, Jupiter."

"There are some badasses whose exploits are obvious. And then there are those few evil genius types who wield absolute power from the shadows, molding society into a willfully submissive machine while maintaining a completely graceful facade. And Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, is one of those truly legendary evil geniuses."

The very first and longest-reigning (from 27 BC to 14 AD) emperor of The Roman Empire. Was also the grand-nephew and adopted son of Gaius Julius Caesar and the rival of Mark Antony.

Worshipped as a God, and considered to be one of the greatest leaders of all time, one of the greatest politicians, and perhaps the most successful despotic ruler in history. He is often prone to either Historical Villain Upgrade or Historical Hero Upgrade depending on who you talked to and whether one weighs his ruthless ambition, brutal extermination of his enemies, and end of the Republic or his massive public works programs, ending nearly a century of constant civil war, and 45 years of excellent administration more heavily. One thing is for sure, he took the Roman Republic and built The Roman Empire as one of the greatest powers in world history. He even managed to get the month of August named after him.

In his youth, he was known as Gaius Octavius, of a respectable but not noble family (though his mother was the niece of Julius Caesar). On Caesar's death, it was found that he had adopted Octavius in his will; at that point, Octavius would have technically been named Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, so historians generally refer to him from that point as "Octavian"note . Once he defeated his enemies, the Senate granted him the quasi-religious name "Augustus" (meaning roughly "illustrious one"). Following this example, all other Roman Emperors would be given the name "Augustus" as one of their titles.

Relevant Tropes:

  • Bread and Circuses: While Gaius Julius Caesar began what we normally think of for this trope, Augustus was said to have "surpassed all his predecessors in the frequency, variety, and magnificence of his public shows."
  • Badass Bookworm / Warrior Poet: He wrote extensively, including a biography on Germanicus (the father of Emperor Caligula), a work on philosophy, an autobiography up to the Cantabrian war, a book on (and entitled) "Sicily" in hexameter verse, "Epigrams" in the same format, a few essays on poetry and he even attempted to write a Tragedy featuring Ajax.
  • Badass Boast: "In all the years that Rome has stood, the Gates of War have only been shut twice. In my reign, the Senate ordered them shut three times."
    • Also one account of his last words has him saying: "I came to a Rome made of brick. I left her clad in marble."
  • Boring, but Practical: Perhaps one of the reasons he is not as well known by non-historians as his famous great uncle or his infamous successors. After the civil wars Octavian ruled peacefully for decades and died of natural causes as an old man. Thus for all his genuinely impressive achievements he lacks the glamour of a great general like Caesar or the lurid fascination of a trainwreck of an emperor like Nero.
  • The Chessmaster
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    Though he began a tragedy with much enthusiasm, he destroyed it because his style did not satisfy him, and when some of his friends asked him what in the world had become of Ajax, he answered that "his Ajax had fallen on his sponge."note 
  • Dead Guy Junior: Took the name Gaius Julius Caesar upon the death of the original, who adopted him in his will. "Augustus" (which, incidentally, wasn't his name but a title given to him by the Senate) was added later.
  • The Emperor: Trope Codifier
  • The Extremist Was Right: "In all the years Rome has stood, [the Gates of War] have been closed only twice. While I was Emperor, the Senate ordered them shut three times." - The Victories of Augustus the God
  • Fear of Thunder: Though not entirely unjustified, given that during the Cantabrian War one of his slaves was struck dead by lightning during a night march... While said slave was standing right in front of him.
  • Heroic BSOD: Went through one after the Battle Of Teutoburg Forest, where 10% of the entire Roman army was slaughtered.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: With Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: While his adoptive father is about equally likely to be depicted as hero or villain, Augustus is usually portrayed unsympathetically as a cruel and cold-blooded Manipulative Bastard. (A notable exception is I, Claudius, where he is portrayed as good-natured and well-meaning, but trapped by his position and manipulated by his ruthless wife, Livia.)
    • Among ancient Romans, he received a Historical Hero Upgrade. All later emperors were compared to him, usually unfavorably. In later years, the position of Emperor was even called "Augustus". He was rather benign with the general public, though he was ruthless with his political enemies, and he did start the Pax Romana after decades of civil war.
    • Ancient Romans directly benefited from his reign; modern historians don't and thus are more likely or free to focus on his negative qualities.
      • Ancient Romans who didn't praise Augustus, even after his death, were liable to be executed for treason or even blasphemy (since he'd been declared a god upon his death.)
  • I Am Not Shazam: Roman naming conventions are tricky, and many works of fiction get them wrong (or don't even try). Before Julius's death, he was Gaius Octavius, not Octavian. After his posthumous adoption by Caesar, his name formally became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, not (as he was called on Rome) "Gaius Octavian Caesar"—and for that matter, he doesn't seem to have ever used the name "Octavian" after his adoption, preferring just "Caesar". After he consolidated his rule, he became Caesar Augustus, not Augustus Caesar.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: For all of Rome (and pretty much Western civilization).
  • It's Personal: After the death of Gaius Julius Caesar, he began to compete for control of Rome with Marc Antony. At some point during this conflict, Marc Antony decided to have an affair with Cleopatra. Marc Antony was married to a woman named "Octavia". Guess who Octavia's brother was? (Roman naming conventions were not very creative.)
  • Just the First Citizen: His adoption of the titles Princeps (the first person) and Imperator (commander, honoured general) were part of an effort not to be seen as a king or autocrat, something that ran contrary to traditional Roman republican values. Ironically, they both gave rise to royal titles, "Prince" and "Emperor" respectively. Indeed, even his (adopted) family name, Caesar, gave rise to the royal titles "Kaiser" and "Tsar". He also called himself "The First Citizen" to appeal to the public in an attempt to make sure that he wouldn't be assassinated, which was why he was so benign and polite in public.
  • Last One Standing: By the time Augustus defeated Marc Antony, there was really no one else left in the Roman world who could oppose him.
  • Magnificent Bastard: He manipulated the Senate into willingly give him absolute control over the entire Roman territory, and disguised his position of power as a completely innocuous representative title.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Toying with the Romans' image of Cleopatra as a treacherous seductress to wage war against her and her lover (and Augustus' rival) Marcus Antonius, and having an entire circle of poets portrait his every movement as heroic and selfless surely paid off.
  • Mother Makes You King: Not a direct example but he became adopted son and heir of Gaius Julius Caesar due to his mother being the daughter of Julius' sister.
    • As he had no legitimate sons or brothers, is successors were also kind of this (Suetonius and Robert Graves make much of how it came about, but best just to quote the family tree): first his wife's son from a previous marriage, Tiberius, then (as Tiberius had no sons) Augustus' daughter's daughter's son (also Tiberius' nephew's son and Octavia's daughter's grandson) Caligula, then - after a complicated coup - Tiberius' other nephew (Augustus' wife's - and Octavia's - grandson), Claudius (then Caligula's sister's son, Nero). Sometimes attributed to emperors adopting the best male relative for the job, sometimes to scheming Evil Matriachs arranging it to be so.
  • Non-Action Guy: To a point. Many of his military victories, including the big one, Actium, were won by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, while Augustus was a master politician (and was no coward for it - Roman political life was no picnic). The arrangement worked astonishingly well, considering Rome's Authority Equals Asskicking traditions. In modern media, this is skewed and he becomes a borderline Sissy Villain.
    • It is also notable that several of his potential rivals fortuitously died in battles that he was also taking part in - Suetonius speculates in The Lives Of The Twelve Caesars that he may even have murdered them personally.
  • Personal Seals: He was said to have originated the practice of the emperors of Rome using a seal with his face carved upon it.
  • Punch Clock Villain: In his personal life he was very mild-mannered. He considered his dog-kicking to be an act, necessary to ensure stability, but not really reflective of himself. His last words were "Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit."
  • This Cannot Be!!: He is said to have uttered "Quintili Vare, legiones redde!" ("Quintilius Varus, Give me back my legions!") after the Roman army in Germany was wiped out at the Battle of Teutoburger Forest.

Depictions, Allusions, And Others:

  • Appears in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Antony And Cleopatra (as Octavian) as a Manipulative Bastard (though in Julius Caesar, he's overshadowed by Mark Antony).
  • He's played by Max Pirkis (as a boy) then Simon Woods in the miniseries Rome. He's depicted as socially awkward, emotionally cold, and a Manipulative Bastard.
  • The subject of the first part of I, Claudius. Was played in an inaccurate but entertaining way by BRIAN BLESSED in the live-action version.
  • The title character of the first episode of The Caesars, played by Roland Culver. The episode mainly revolves around the question of whether he will name Tiberius as his successor on his deathbed.
  • He's portrayed by Roddy McDowall in the 1963 film Cleopatra.
    • And by Rupert Graves in the 1999 Cleopatra miniseries, opposite Leonor Varela's Cleopatra and Billy Zane's Marc Antony.
  • In The Sandman an elderly Augustus spends a day with a dwarf actor disguised as a beggar in the street. This depiction works hard to incorporate the "cold, ruthless politician" aspect of his personality, but also strives to humanize him. He deliberately triggers the eventual fall of the Roman Empire, to take revenge on Julius Caesar for raping and traumatizing him as a young man by breaking free of the course that Julius set before him.
  • He gets mentioned around Christmas every year due to the relevant passages of The Gospels beginning by dating the census where Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to the years of his reign.
  • Tavi in Codex Alera is short for Gaius Octavian making Tavi an expy.
  • He is a major figure in the last two books of Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. McCullough portrays him as a Well-Intentioned Extremist and Manipulative Bastard, outwardly charming but very cool blooded (a dillusioned Cicero describes him an "unfeeling pillar of ice.")
  • First seen in Xena: Warrior Princess as a boy who wants to bring peace to Rome so she manipulates Brutus and Marc Antony into destroying each other so Octavius can take over.
  • A recurring leader character for Rome in the Civilization series. In Civ4, where the player is compared to historical leaders based on their score after finishing a game, Augustus is ranked as the best leader in history.
  • Portrayed by Peter O'Toole as an old man in Imperium: Augustus

Gaius Julius CaesarHeads Of StateEmperor Caligula
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alternative title(s): Augustus
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