(Au·gusʹtus) [August One; applied to things most noble, venerable, sacred; Latin, augere, “to increase”; Greek, Se·ba·stosʹ, “Reverend One”].
This title implying divinity was given to Gaius Octavius. Later Roman emperors also assumed the title (Acts 25:21, 25), but by itself when used as a name, it refers to Octavius, the first emperor of the Roman Empire.
Octavius was born on September 23, 63 B.C.E., the son of Octavius and his wife Atia, both of noble families. His father’s death four years later led to Octavius’ secret adoption by his mother’s uncle Julius Caesar. After the death of Julius, the adoption was made public and young Octavius soon joined a triumvirate with Mark Antony and Lepidus. These three quickly moved in a ruthless manner to have 300 senators and 2,000 knights assassinated. They then successfully defeated Caesar’s assassins at Philippi in 42 B.C.E., and Octavius granted Roman citizenship to the people of this city, where Paul preached about a century later. (Acts 16:12) Lepidus was sent to Africa, and Antony made an alliance with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. The strained relations between Octavius and Antony reached a showdown at the battle of Actium, September 31 B.C.E., where Antony and Cleopatra were defeated. Octavius thus emerged the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire.
Octavius declined the titles “king” and “dictator” but accepted the special title “Augustus” bestowed upon him by the Senate, January 16, 27 B.C.E. After the death of Lepidus in 12 B.C.E., Augustus assumed the title “Pontifex Maximus.” With his rise in power he made reforms in government, reorganized the army, established the Praetorian Guard (Phil. 1:13), built and repaired many temples.
In 2 B.C.E. “a decree went forth from Caesar Augustus for all the inhabited earth to be registered; . . . and all people went traveling to be registered, each one to his own city.” (Luke 2:1, 3) This decree resulted in Jesus’ being born in Bethlehem in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. (Dan. 11:20; Mic. 5:2) Aside from this registration of the people for taxation and army conscription, appointment of rulers like King Herod, and execution of the death penalty, Augustus interfered very little with local government. His policy, which continued after his death, granted the Jewish Sanhedrin sweeping powers. (John 18:31) This imperial leniency gave the subjects less provocation to rebel.
Augustus had little choice for a successor. His nephew, two grandsons, a son-in-law and a stepson all died, leaving only his stepson Tiberius, whom he made coregent a year before dying. Augustus died August 19, 14 C.E., Julian calendar (August 17, Gregorian calendar), the month he had named after himself. This event is so universally recognized that it is reckoned as a pivotal date in calculating chronology of the Greek Scriptures. Augustus reigned forty-four years and enjoyed a popularity not equaled by any other Roman emperor. A month after his death, he was deified by the Senate.
[Picture on page 166]
Naval trophy showing head of Augustus