Life of Augustus

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Suetonius’ Depiction of Augustus’ Attitudes Towards Family and Religion

Lives of the Caesars- Diefied Augustus, was written by Gauis Suetonius Tranquilius. It was basically a biography on the life of Augustus, which was written towards the general public in 121 AD (during the reign of Emperor Hadrian). Diefied Augustus has many references to Augustus’ connection to his family and his approach to religion. Suetonius begins by telling us that Augustus (born Gauis Octavius Thurinus) was the son of Gauis Octavius- a man of great wealth and reputation. He had one younger sister Octavia, who was born to the same mother, and an elder half-sister also named Octavia (daughter of Octavius and Ancharia). His mother Aria was the niece of Julius Caesar. It is at this point in the book that Suetonius introduces the hostility between Marc Antony and Augustus. He quotes an insult, which Marc Antony directed towards Augustus’ family and ancestry- saying that his maternal grandfather was a baker from Africa, thus trying to degrade Augustus’ authority. Rewinding back to Augustus’ youth, Suetonius tells of Augustus’ father dying when he was 4 years old (being that he was fatherless from such age the idea that Julius Caesar was a father figure to him, and a mentor, was so grand to him). When he was 12 years old, Augustus gave a eulogy speech at his grandmother Julia’s funeral (Ch. 8), depicting leadership and oratory skills from an early age. The first association of Augustus and Julius Caesar is found in chapter 8. It expresses that Julius Caesar’s first impression of Augustus was during the war with the sons of Pompey, in Spain. Despite recently recovering from an illness Augustus got up and followed his great-uncle Julius, out to war. This act of goodwill found favor in the eyes of the Caesar, who now had a strong and lasting impression of Augustus’ dedication to him and to Rome (Ch. 8).

Following Caesars assassination in 44 BC, Augustus was named his heir. Augustus vowed to avenge his great-uncles death, which he viewed as a moral duty and his responsibility to the republic (Ch. 10). Later on, after the capture of Perusia, Suetonius records that Augustus picked out three hundred senators and equestrians to be sacrificed on the Ides of March (anniversary of Julius Caesar’s death) at the altar of the Divine Julius (Chapter 15). This action connotes both Augustus’ religious beliefs (i.e. the altar and the fact he deified Julius) and his high respect for his great uncle and predecessor, Julius Caesar.

Following his victory at Actium, Augustus enlarged the Temple of Apollo, and decorated it with spoils of war, which he dedicated to Mars (Roman god of war) and Neptune ([Roman god of sea] Ch. 18). Another instance, after the Dalmatian wars Augustus forced certain German chieftains, who submitted to his rule, to take an oath in the Temple of Mars the Avenger, as a way to authenticate their claim to observe the peace (Ch. 19). These are examples of Augustus’ commitment to the gods as a token of gratitude for helping him expand the empire.

Overall Augustus’ devotion towards the Roman gods were sincere. However, the following tale I found rather interesting; In chapter 16 Suetonius describes Augustus’ actions during the war of Sicily- “Others criticize his words and actions, claiming that when the ships were lost in storm he had cried out that he would conquer even against the will of Neptune and that the next time the circus games were held, he had Neptune’s image removed from the festival procession”. In this account, Augustus showed complete disregard for Neptune, the Roman god of water and sea, and a symbol of Roman religion. It was one of the few times, if ever, that Suetonius depicted Augustus showing disrespect to the gods. It made me wonder that maybe, in times of danger and uncertainty, as mentioned above, Augustus shows no regard for the gods, and that in times of victory and prosperity he goes forth and builds temples to the...
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