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The Rise and Rule of Octavian


Octavian, who would later establish himself as one of the most tactical and charismatic rulers of the Roman Empire, was born in September 23rd in 63 BC. Octavian was actually a nephew to Julius Caesar, having been born to Atia, Julius Caesar’s niece and Gaius Octavius. Although his father became a senator, perhaps it was the influence from his mother’s side that was materialistic towards his political achievements.

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He is described as having been of short stature, but grace was his most valuable asset towards leadership1. Octavian rise to power was rather spontaneous, but he managed to take the opportunities that came his way, using them to his advantage. Octavian was also a prudent ruler due to his ability to continuously gather the support of the senate. Octavian managed to establish political institutions that ensured peace in the Roman Empire opening opportunities for development.

Rise to Power

Octavian had all the assets needed for a career in politics. He conveniently had Julius Caesar as his mentor. Octavian was not only able to serve under Caesar but learnt from Caesar’s mistakes. It is recorded that although he did not have a healthy condition conventional to a solder, his determination saw him undertake the Spanish expedition of 46 BC. Although he might have enjoyed favor from his uncle Caesar, he was wise enough to realize that support alone was not enough.

As a result, he took it upon himself to show his bravery. In 44 BC as a senior military commander in Caesar’s army, he participated in the Parthian expedition despite the fact that he was only 18 years old2. Perhaps it was during these years of serving in Caesar’s army, that Octavian was able to gather invaluable experience that would later help him not only to mobilize troops but also to gain their support and loyalty. When Octavia was only 19 years old Caesar was unexpectedly assassinated.

Caesar’s assassination came as a surprise to the young Octavian because he had lost a very important mentor. However Caesar had also adopted Octavian and named him his heir. It was a normal occurrence for rulers to train and nurture successors who would carry on their policies upon their death.

The death of Caesar threatened to plunge Rome into a civil war due to the suddenness of the death, and the refusal of Anthony to recognize the will left by Caesar3. After being named an heir to Caesar, Octavian had the option of going to Rome and claim his rightful position or forego his rightful inheritance and flee. The first option had risks. There was the possibility that Caesar’s army would not accept him and perhaps they would even assassinate him. There was also the possibility that Anthony, the de facto ruler of Rome, would declare war. Despite these risks, Octavian decided to go to Rome and claim his rightful ownership, taking the name of Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus4. His decision to go to Rome clearly demonstrates his leadership capabilities.

However before he could establish himself as a potential ruler of Rome, Octavian knew that he had to gather support from both the citizens of Rome and the army and he also had to pacify or eliminate his potential threats; Anthony and Lepidus, and Caesar’s assassins. Octavian was able to gather support of a substantial section of Caesar’s army. Although this move seemed dangerous because it would have implied that he was planning to raise a rebellion, putting him at risk of becoming an enemy of the senate.

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Furthermore it would have also compelled Anthony to declare war. Octavian was however lucky in two aspects; Anthony gravely underestimated Caesar and the senate did not raise any oppositions. After successfully gathering the support of Caesar’s army Octavian was only left with Anthony and Lepidus as the major hurdles5.

Octavian’s Rule

Octavian managed to gather support of the Roman public much to the disadvantage of Anthony and Lepidus. Public support became one of his key strategies. To the public Octavian demonstrated himself as being loyal to Caesar due to his determination to see the will of Caesar respected. After defeating Anthony on 43 BC in a war where Octavian enjoyed the support of the senate, Octavian convinced the senate to appoint him the Consul6. Later on Octavian, Anthony and Lepidus signed the second triumvirate treaty7 a move that completely took powers from the senate. In 40 BC Lepidus had already become a weak link and was kept outside the treaty of Brundisium.

After the death of Lepidus the only challenge that Octavian had was Anthony. However Anthony’s relationship with Cleopatra placed his loyalty to Rome in question. Octavia took advantage of Anthony’s position and when Anthony divorced Octavia, a sister to Octavian, Octavian responded by informing Roman public that Anthony’s will mentioned that Anthony was ready to leave all his possessions to the children he bore with Cleopatra. Furthermore Anthony preferred to have his body taken to Egypt after his death. The senate subsequently declared war against Anthony. At the battle of Actium in 31 BC Anthony was defeated and he together with Cleopatra subsequently committed suicide. The death of Anthony and Cleopatra did not only eliminate Octavian’s opposition but left Egypt under his command.


The political institutions created by Octavian, however much geared towards strengthening his ruler, also led to the establishment of peace in Rome. In the first settlement, Octavian tactfully surrendered all his powers to the senate to avoid drawing rebellion from them. The move was able to dissociate his rule with dictatorship. The senate in a similar gesture gave all the powers back to him. Although he ensured that power was shared between him and the senate, his charisma enabled him to have complete control. In the second settlement he also agreed to surrender hi consul position in exchange of the powers of tribunician powers, giving direct control over the senate8.

Consequently in 19 BC he was given the consul position, this time for life. Octavian was able to establish a political institution where power was centralized and although the senate also had their powers, they were still under Octavian. Rebellion was therefore unlikely because the senate paid him allegiance and therefore ensuring peace.


British Museum, “Augustus Gaius Julius Octavius (63BC-AD 14)”. Web.

Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

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Time Line and Images. “Octavian to Augustus,”. Web.

UNRV History, “Caesar’s Heir,” 2003. Web.


  1. British Museum, “Augustus Gaius Julius Octavius (63BC-AD 14)”. Web.
  2. British Museum, “Augustus Gaius Julius Octavius (63BC-AD 14)” . Web.
  3. British Museum, “Augustus Gaius Julius Octavius (63BC-AD 14)”. Web.
  4. UNRV History, “Caesar’s Heir,” 2003. Web.
  5. British Museum, “Augustus Gaius Julius Octavius (63BC-AD 14)”. Web.
  6. Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 156.
  7. Time Line and Images, “Octavian to Augustus. Web.
  8. Le Glay, Marcel, Jean-Louis Voisin, and Yann Le Bohec. A History of Rome. (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 185.

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