In Augustus, Pat Southern reveals the man behind the many, often self-created, legends. She allows us to see the events-his transition from Julius Caesar's heir to successor, the decay of the republic and the emergence of empire-and ideologies of his time from his perspective.
Augustus had no master plan, but he had a keen sense of when to wait, when to act and when to change course as he searched for a form of government that was acceptable to the citizens and senate of Rome. He was the guiding light of the Roman Empire but also genuinely human and consequently often as unsure of what lay ahead as those he led.
Depictions of Augustus abound, (perpetually young, vigorous, and virile), but the hesitations (his cautious return to Rome after Caesar's murder) and the pain (the deaths and turmoil in his family as his own health declined) are absent. This biography of an extraordinary character is unique in its ability to restore the flesh to a figure too easily, and too often, rendered in monumental marble. It is an engrossing tale and a genuine achievement in both scholarship and writing.
In this crisply written and well-researched biography, Southern (librarian at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, England) presents Octavian/Augustus as an opportunistic genius whose creation of the Roman Empire was more a matter of pragmatic adaptation to circumstance than adherence to a master plan. Octavian, the sickly kinsman of Julius Caesar who became the dictator's confidant and adopted son, was one of the truly great figures of history. Achieving power at the end of over a century of violent turbulence that saw repeated civil wars among warlords, he created a form of government that preserved the forms of the old republic while allowing him to exercise absolute power over the Roman apparatus of state. Southern shows that, once Octavian was catapulted into prominence, this result was no accident: his unique blend of self-control, common sense, tact, careful calculation, and ruthlessness allowed him to take advantage of the turmoil that enveloped the Roman world after the assassination of his benefactor in 44 b.c. Aged just 19 when elevated to the consulship in 43 b.c., he used his constitutionally exalted office to strengthen his position both against his manifest enemies, the assassins of Julius Caesar who were allied with the senatorial aristocracy, and against his ostensible allies and fellow triumvirate members Marc Antony and Lepidus. Southern details Augustus's brief and sanguinary role in the battle on both fronts. Following his victories, Octavian consolidated both his power and his prestige: he assumed the elevated name Augustus in 27 b.c., built strong military frontiers, and, while avoiding the trappings of kingship, wielded immense power behind innocuouslyrepublican-sounding offices like consul and princeps (first citizen). By the time of his death in 14 a.d., the Roman Senate and people had, seemingly willingly, abandoned all pretensions to republicanism, and constituted an empire in name and in fact. A concise and thoughtful contribution to the literature of one of history's great turning points.