Eight Days that Made Rome: Rome’s First Emperor

Rome's first emperor

Eight Days that Made Rome: Rome’s First Emperor – Presenter Bettany Hughes explores the day in 32BC when Octavian, Julius Caesar’s adopted son, stole the secret will of Mark Antony, his most dangerous political rival. The document’s release gave Octavian crucial support in the civil war that followed and allowed him to establish himself as Rome’s first emperor, Augustus.



Bettany Hughes focuses on the day in 32BC when Octavian stole the secret will of his most dangerous political rival, Mark Antony. It is a moment that casts a light on what it took to win in Roman politics, as the cunning, brilliant subterfuge required paved Octavian’s path to power by undermining Antony’s popularity and giving Octavian the crucial support of Rome’s Senate and people in the civil war that followed. Dramatisations featuring Jack Morris, Nathan Dean Williams and Taniel Yusef bring the key moments to life.


Eight Days that Made Rome: Rome’s First Emperor

Rome’s First Emperor : Augustus – Unraveling the Enigma of Rome’s First Emperor

Augustus (Latin: Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD) was the founder of the Roman Principate and considered Rome’s First Emperor, controlling the Roman Empire from 27 BC until his death in AD 14. He was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian gens Octavia.

His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian). He, Mark Antony, and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate to defeat the assassins of Caesar. Following their victory at the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirate divided the Roman Republic among themselves and ruled as military dictators. The Triumvirate was eventually torn apart by the competing ambitions of its members. Lepidus was driven into exile and stripped of his position, and Antony committed suicide following his defeat at the Battle of Actium by Octavian in 31 BC.

From a Humble Beginning to a Mighty Ruler

Augustus, born Gaius Octavius Thurinus in 63 BCE, was a mere teenager when destiny knocked on his door. The assassination of his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, in 44 BCE, sent shockwaves throughout the Roman Republic. In the face of chaos, Octavius emerged as a beacon of hope, later transforming into the mighty Augustus.

Upon Caesar’s death, Octavius inherited his wealth and political influence. However, Rome’s first emperor didn’t merely ride the coattails of his predecessor. Instead, he leveraged his newfound power to forge alliances, quell rebellions, and usher in a new era: the Pax Romana. This period of unprecedented peace and prosperity would span two centuries and cement Augustus’s legacy as a master statesman.

Augustus’s meteoric rise to power is a classic tale of tenacity, ambition, and sheer force of will. His story is an inspiring reminder that even the most ordinary beginnings can give rise to extraordinary greatness.

The Intricate Web of Politics and War

Augustus’s ascent to power was fraught with obstacles. In a world where friends could turn foes in the blink of an eye, the young leader had to tread carefully. His uncanny ability to navigate Rome’s treacherous political landscape earned him the respect of both his contemporaries and future generations.

Early on, Augustus recognized that a delicate balance of power was essential to maintaining stability. He formed the Second Triumvirate with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 43 BCE, and together, they avenged Caesar’s death by defeating the assassins Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi. However, tensions soon erupted within the alliance, culminating in the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Augustus emerged victorious, vanquishing Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and solidifying his position as Rome’s unrivaled ruler.

Augustus’s reign was marked by a series of military conquests and strategic alliances, which expanded the Roman Empire’s borders and consolidated its power. Through his unyielding determination and shrewd political acumen, he transformed a once-fragile republic into a formidable empire.

Augustus’s Enduring Legacy

Augustus’s impact on Rome is both far-reaching and enduring. His reign marked a turning point in Roman history, signaling the end of the tumultuous Republic era and the beginning of the mighty Roman Empire. His innovative leadership style and visionary reforms laid the foundation for a stable, prosperous society that would flourish for centuries.

Augustus’s reforms touched nearly every aspect of Roman life. He revamped the tax system, improved infrastructure, and reorganized the military. The emperor’s commitment to the arts and culture was also instrumental in shaping Rome’s identity. Augustus’s patronage attracted a constellation of talented poets and artists, including Virgil and Horace, who immortalized his reign in their works.

As the sun set on Augustus’s life in 14 CE, he left behind an empire forever changed. His indomitable spirit, unwavering vision, and transformative leadership remain an enduring testament to the power of human potential.

Mark Antony – Exploring the Life and Legacy of Mark Antony

A Promising Start and Rise to Power

Mark Antony, born in 83 BC, hailed from a distinguished lineage of Roman politicians. His early years were marked by rebellion, but his bravery and skills as a soldier earned him a place in Julius Caesar’s army. As a tribune of the plebs and Caesar’s trusted officer, Antony deftly navigated the volatile Roman political landscape.

When civil war erupted between Caesar and Pompey, Antony’s unwavering loyalty to Caesar led him to key victories in Italy, Greece, Africa, and Spain. His dedication was rewarded with prestigious offices and positions, and he remained a staunch supporter of Caesar until the latter’s tragic assassination in 44 BC.

In the aftermath of Caesar’s death, Antony vied for control over his legacy and army, clashing with Brutus, Cassius, and Octavian. Ultimately, Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian formed the Second Triumvirate and triumphed over Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi. The Roman world was then divided among the triumvirs, with Antony gaining dominion over the eastern provinces.

Romance with Cleopatra and the Path to Downfall

Antony’s eastern command brought him face-to-face with Egypt’s captivating Queen Cleopatra. Their passionate love affair and political alliance infuriated Octavian, who accused Antony of betraying Rome for Cleopatra’s sake. As tensions escalated, the Senate declared war on Cleopatra, culminating in the Battle of Actium, where Antony’s forces were vanquished.

Retreating to Egypt, Antony and Cleopatra faced an unrelenting pursuit by Octavian. As the situation grew dire, Antony, believing Cleopatra to be dead, took his own life. Cleopatra, heartbroken by Antony’s demise, succumbed to suicide as well. The lovers were buried together in a secret location, their fates forever entwined.

Mark Antony’s Enduring Legacy

With Antony’s death, Octavian emerged as Rome’s sole ruler, transitioning the Republic into the Roman Empire under the name Augustus. While Antony’s memory was deliberately expunged from official records, his legacy persevered in history and literature. Mark Antony’s life, marked by loyalty, passion, and tragedy, continues to captivate and inspire generations.

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