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An Imperial Month

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  • An Imperial Month

Meghan, Queen's Sqaure | August 1, 2019

Ave amicus!  (Translation from the Latin: “Hello, friend!”)

As this greeting implies, August is a month with a classical Roman pedigree. While July takes its name from Roman general and politician Julius Caesar, August is named in honour of Augustus Caesar, formerly Octavian (63 BCE – 14 ADE), the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius and the first emperor of Rome. The biography of August’s namesake is full of twists and turns, adding up to one of the most remarkable political dramas in world history.

Here’s a Coles Notes’ version:

After the brutal killing of Julius Caesar, the young Octavian teamed up with Mark Antony (83-30 BCE), a popular ally of the slain leader, to bring down the assassins. This broke out into a civil war worthy of an HBO series (the critically acclaimed TV epic, Rome).

Antony and Octavian won the war, but the backstabbing didn’t end there. Soon, the two men were squabbling among themselves. Having taken over the eastern part of the empire, Antony spent a suspicious amount of time in Alexandria, canoodling with the powerful and alluring Egyptian queen, Cleopatra VII. It probably didn’t help matters that he was still married to Octavian’s sister, Octavia the Younger.

More in-fighting ensued, including the Battle of Actium and the tragic suicides of Antony and Cleopatra, events immortalized in the Shakespearean drama, Antony and Cleopatra. Again, Octavian triumphed. This time, he was the last leader standing.

Once Octavian gained control of the Roman Empire, he made big changes. During his reign, Rome prospered under a Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) that led to remarkable artistic achievements and growth. He also took on a new name: ‘Augustus’ (“exalted one”), to signal his greatness and his birth month, Sextilis (“sixth”) was renamed in his honour.

Augustus laid the foundations for Roman imperial power in the centuries to come and founded the Julio-Claudian dynasty of emperors. Many of the seceding emperors in this dynasty were less capable or less sane than he was, so this wasn’t entirely a good thing, but it did cement Augustus’ legacy in classical history and literature.

Want to learn more about the beginnings of the Roman Empire? Check out these titles to experience the guts and glory of imperial Rome.  

I, Claudius, by Robert Graves

Roma: the novel of ancient Rome, by Steven Saylor

Dictator, by Robert Harris

The Blood of Gods, by Conn Iggulden

Antony and Cleopatra, by Colleen McCullough

SPQR: A history of ancient Rome, by Mary Beard