Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
 THE first of the long line of Roman emperors was Octavius, called in history
Augustus. He was the grandnephew of Julius Cæsar. Although he was
scarcely twenty years old when Cæsar died, he was very ambitious. He often
said that he should one day be at the head of the Roman Empire.
"I shall rule Rome like Cæsar," he would say to his companions. "You may
laugh at me now, but the time will come when I shall be master of the
Shortly after Cæsar's death Octavius began to take an active part in
political affairs. At this time Mark Antony was in control of Rome and was
managing everything to suit himself. He had been an intimate friend of
Cæsar and commanded one of his armies. He obtained a great deal of power,
but he was not liked very much either by the nobles or the plebeians. He
was a bad ruler, and nobody trusted him.
IN THE TIME OF AUGUSTUS
 Once Antony tried to prevent Octavius from being elected a tribune of the
people. "I will be a tribune in spite of you," Octavius said, and he set to
work with all his energy to get the office. There was a severe struggle on
election day, but the boy was successful.
After this Octavius hated Antony and planned in secret to bring about his
downfall. And he succeeded in all he attempted to do. From a tribune he
advanced steadily, step by step, to more important offices. At last he
obtained command of an army and marched his soldiers to northern Italy,
where a war was going on. While in this region he met Antony with his army.
The two began to quarrel and at last came to blows. Then the army of
Octavius fought the army of Antony, and the northern plains were reddened
with the blood of the soldiers.
When the fighting had gone on for some time, Octavius sent to Antony and
asked him to stop it. He pretended that he was very sorry he had begun to
fight with Antony and asked for his friendship.
"Let us be friends and work together," he said to Antony. "By joining our
armies we shall be able to do some good."
The fighting was then stopped, and the two generals had a meeting. They
agreed to unite their
 armies, and to invite another Roman general, named Lepidus, who had a
large army, to join them. Lepidus accepted the invitation and came to have
a talk with Antony and Octavius. They agreed to a plan by which they
themselves were to rule Rome together. This rule, or government, was called
a triumvirate, and Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus were called
triumvirs, a word which means three men.
AFTER making all their arrangements, Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus started
for Rome with their armies and took possession of the city. Then they began
to kill those that they thought were their enemies. More than two thousand
Romans were slain. They would have killed Brutus only that he was then in
Greece, where he had gone after Cæsar's death to raise an army to fight
Antony and his friends. Antony and Octavius now went with an army to Greece
to fight Brutus. Both armies met at Philippi, in Macedonia, and then there
was a battle in which the army of Brutus was defeated. After the battle
Brutus requested one of his slaves to kill him. The slave refused, but when
 still pressed him to do it, he held out his sword and Brutus killed himself
by falling upon it.
It is told that some time before the battle of Philippi, as Brutus was
sitting one night in his tent, a vision or spectre appeared to him and said,
"I am thy evil genius, Brutus; we shall meet again at Philippi." It is also
said that the spectre again appeared to Brutus on the night before the
battle of Philippi and told him that his death was at hand.
There was no one now to interfere with Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, and
they managed everything in Rome as they liked. They pretended all the time
to have great respect for the Senate and the officers of government who had
been elected by the people.
After a short time Antony went to some of the Eastern countries that were a
part of the Roman Empire, and Lepidus went to Africa. Octavius was left in
Rome to attend to its affairs. He then began to plan to get rid of Antony
and Lepidus, so that he might rule Rome himself. With this object he raised
a great army and determined to make war on his rivals.
Sextus Pompey, a son of Pompey the Great, was at this time in control of the
island of Sicily. He was always making trouble for Octavius, and he
 was aided by Lepidus, who had come from Africa to Sicily with his army. One
day Octavius sailed over the Mediterranean Sea to Sicily, with thousands of
soldiers, destroyed the army of Sextus, and induced the army of Lepidus to
leave him. Lepidus was then taken prisoner.
"Now to put an end to the power of Antony!" said Octavius to himself, when
he returned to Rome from Sicily. So he went to the Senate and accused
Antony of treason in Asia and Africa and asked that war be declared against
him. The Senate declared war, and Octavius began to make great preparations
Antony was in Egypt when he heard of the declaration of war. He laughed
scornfully at the idea of Octavius being able to beat him. Then he gathered
an army of more than a hundred thousand men and a fleet of several hundred
warships, and set out to meet Octavius. He had with him
Cleopatra, the beautiful queen of Egypt, whom he had married, and she had a fleet of her
own, numbering sixty ships.
Octavius had about as many soldiers and ships as Antony. The two fleets met
near a place called Actium, on the coast of Greece, and fought a battle.
For several hours the fight went on bravely, but neither side gained any
great advantage. Suddenly
 Cleopatra sailed away with her fleet, and Antony quickly followed her with a
few ships. Thus he deserted his men while they were fighting.
The sailors and soldiers of the deserted fleet kept on fighting for a short
time and then surrendered to Octavius. A few days later a part of Antony's
army, which was encamped on the shore near Actium, also surrendered.
Antony went back to Egypt with Cleopatra. His friends and supporters then
left him, and his power was gone. Soon after, he stabbed himself, and so
died. It is said that Cleopatra died from the bite of a poisonous serpent
called an asp, which she placed on her arm on purpose to kill herself.
OCTAVIUS continued to fight in different parts of the Empire until he
defeated every one who dared to oppose him. Then he went back to Rome with
a great deal of glory and riches and let it be known at once that he
intended to be the master of the government. Although he pretended to
protect the rights of the people, he made himself consul and also assumed
other high offices which greatly added
 to his power. Thousands of soldiers were at his call, and finally he became
very much like a king.
The Senate asked him if he would wish to be appointed dictator for life, but
he thought it wise to refuse this office. The Senate then gave him the name
of Augustus, which meant that he was worthy of respect. The word
augustus in the Latin language means sacred. He called himself emperor,
and, as Emperor Cæsar Augustus, he ruled the Romans all the rest of his
life, a period of about twenty-seven years. And when Augustus became
emperor the Republic of Rome was no longer in existence.
What were known as the Prætorian Guards were organized by Augustus to
protect himself and uphold his authority as emperor. These guards
 were about ten thousand in number, and they were composed of the most trusty
soldiers of the Empire. Each soldier had high rank and large pay, and had
to serve for many years. Whenever Augustus appeared in public he was
attended by some of the Prætorian guards, and they looked very imposing
with their handsome uniforms and glittering swords and spears.
Augustus made many good changes in the government. He very much improved
the condition of the plebeians. His principal ministers were two able men
named Agrippa and Mæcenas, who gave him very valuable assistance.
Whenever these wise men saw that the Romans were getting uneasy and
beginning to grumble, they would advise the emperor to distribute corn or
money to the poor, or to give the people grand exhibitions to amuse them.
Augustus would follow the advice, and by so doing made himself very popular.
During his long reign Augustus had many splendid palaces, temples, and other
buildings erected in Rome, and they made the city very beautiful. Augustus
also founded cities in various parts of the empire. He encouraged
literature and art and was himself an author. In his time the famous Roman
poets, Horace, Vergil, Varius, and Ovid lived, and
 also the great historian Livy, who wrote the history of Rome from the
earliest period down to his own time. Vergil was the author of a celebrated
poem called the Æneid, which tells of the wanderings and adventures of
the Trojan hero Æneas mentioned on
page 9 of this book.
Vergil Horace Varius Mæcenas
VERGIL READING AT THE HOUSE OF MÆCENAS
It was in the reign of Augustus that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, a
town of Palestine, or Judea, in Southwest Asia. Judea was then part of the