The Later Reign of Augustus

The Wars and Death of Octavian

After Augustus set himself up as Emperor of Rome, in 27 BC, he took the title Imperator Caesar as his first name in order to closely associate himself with victory. 

By the year 13 AD, Augustus had been proclaimed Imperator on the battlefield by his Legions 21 times. Augustus also devoted the entire fourth chapter of his memoirs, the Res Gestae, to listing all of his individual military honours. He also pandered to Roman patriots in promoting the idea of a superior Roman civilization with the task of ruling the entire known world. These ideas fit well with the views of Roman aristocrats and the general support for the expansion of the Roman Empire. This mood was reflected in a line written by the Roman poet Virgil, “Imperium sine fine,” which means sovereignty without limit.

The Wars of Augustus

By the end of his reign, Augustus’s Legions had conquered much of Europe. Augustus also extended the border of Rome’s African province to the south and east. Following the death of King Herod, the province of Judea was merged with Syria, after Augustus deposed his heir, Herod Acchelaus. As with Egypt, Syria was ruled, not by a governor appointed by the Senate, but by a high prefect of the Equestrian class chosen by Augustus. In 25 BC, Galatia, or modern day Turkey, became a Roman province following the death of its ruler.

In 19BC, Augustus successfully quelled an uprising by the Cantabria Tribes in Spain. This was a significant victory for the Romans, as it gave them access to the mineral wealth of northern Spain, such as the gold deposit at Las Medulas.

The conquest of the barbarian tribes living in the Alps was also a significant victory for Augustus. The seizure of the Alps provided Rome with a large territorial buffer for Italy against the Germanic tribes in Northern Europe. It also served as a jumping off point for Tiberius and Drusus to attack the Germanic tribes living in the eastern Rhineland. Their campaign was very successful, eventually pushing the Germanic tribes back across the River Elbe. Drusus died in 9 BC after he fell from his horse. Primary sources claim that the intensely pious Tiberius walked in front of Drusus’s body all the way back to Rome.

In order to protect the Roman Empire’s eastern border from a Parthian invasion, Augustus relied on Rome’s client states to act as a buffer, capable of raising their own armies. In order to assure the long term stability of Rome’s eastern border, Augustus dispatched a Legion to Syria. He also sent Tiberius to Syria to act as his personal envoy in the east. One of Tiberius’s greatest diplomatic achievements was the negotiated return of Crassus’s captured battle standards from the Parthians.

Even though Parthia would remain a threat to Rome, the majority of the fighting during the reign of Augustus took place along the Rhine and Danube Rivers. While fighting Antony during the wars of the Second Triumvirate, Augustus was also fighting the tribes of Dalmatia, in what is now modern day Croatia. Augustus’s campaign in Germania suffered a major set back in 9 AD when Publius Quinctilius Varus was decisively defeated by Arminius, the leader of the Cherusci tribe at the battle of Teutoburg Forest. Augustus retaliated by dispatching Tiberius to the Rhineland on a mission of pacification. Although Tiberius’s mission was successful, it also brought an end to Roman expansion in Germania.

The Death of Augustus

Augustus’s illness in 23 BC brought the issue of succession to the forefront. In order to ensure the stability of the Roman Empire, Augustus needed a successor to keep the Empire from falling into civil war after his death. As with his seizure of power, this would have to be arranged in incremental steps in order to not stir up fears of monarchy. Some historians claim that Augustus initially favoured his nephew, Marcellus. However, others claim that Augustus’s will, which was read aloud to the Senate, named Marcus Agrippa as his successor. This claim is based on the belief that Agrippa was the only person who had the skills to hold the Empire together. Following the death of Marcellus, Julia married Agrippa, eventually giving birth to five children. Following Agrippa’s death, his youngest son, Agrippa Postumus was given a five year term administrating the eastern Empire.

Augustus initially intended to declare Agrippa’s older brothers as his successors. He became Consul again in 5 and 2 BC so he could oversee the start of their careers. He also favoured Drusus and Tiberius, giving them military command and political office.

Augustus died on August 19, 14 AD at Nola, Italy, where he was visiting his father’s grave. An enormous funeral procession brought Augustus’s body back to Rome. The funeral oration was given by both Tiberius and Drusus, following which, Augustus’s body was cremated, and Augustus deified. During the Sack of Rome in 410 AD, the Visigoths broke into Augustus’s tomb and his ashes were scattered.


Chisholm, Kitty and John Ferguson. (1981). Rome: The Augustan Age; A Source Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, in association with the Open University Press.

Dio, Cassius (1987) The Roman History: The Reign of Augustus. Translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. London: Penguin Books.

Everitt, Anthony (2006) Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor. Random House Books.

Mackay, Christopher S. (2004). Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History. Cambridge University Press.

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