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Helene A. Guerber

The Augustan Age

O CTAVIUS had been noted for his severity and even cruelty as long as he shared the government with Lepidus and Antony; but he now changed his ways entirely, and soon won a great reputation for kindness.

Shortly after the death of Antony, he assumed the title of imperator, or emperor, which his uncle had borne; but, as the Romans had always called victorious generals by this name, it gave no offense to the people. Not content with one title, Octavius soon took those of censor, tribune, and chief pontiff; and he assumed all the pomp that belonged to these offices. Consuls still continued to be elected, but they had no real authority, and were mere puppets in the emperor's hands.

In memory of his uncle, Octavius also took the name of Cæsar; and this title was borne by all the Roman emperors, although most of them did not belong to the family of the great general.

Cæsar Augustus, as Octavius was now generally called, had many good friends in Rome. Among them was his favorite general, Agrippa, and a very rich man named Mæcenas. This Mæcenas was very fond of the society of clever people, and he liked to help all the learned men and writers of his day.

At the banquets given in the house of Mæcenas, you would have seen the most famous men of the time; and this period was so rich in talented writers that it is called the Augustan Age. The greatest genius was the poet Virgil, the author of the Æneid. The Æneid, as you may know, is a poem in which are told the adventures of Æneas, the founder of the Roman race.

There were other talented poets in Rome, such as Ovid and Horace, whose works you will find very beautiful when you come to read Latin. Then, too, there was Livy, the historian, and Cornelius Nepos, the writer of the lives of great men.

After so many years of constant warfare, the Romans were glad to be at peace with the whole world. It was therefore a cause of much rejoicing when Augustus ordered that the Temple of Janus should again be closed. This was only the third time that such a thing had ever happened; and yet the temple was said to have been built by Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

Although Augustus seemed so fortunate, he was not a happy man; and while his public career was very brilliant, he had many sorrows. For instance, he lost two grandsons, his sister Octavia, and his nephew and son-in-law Marcellus; and he also survived the friends he loved so dearly,—Agrippa and Mæcenas.

To amuse the people, Augustus often ordered the celebration of many games, especially foot and chariot races; but he prevented as much as possible the combats between gladiators, and those with wild beasts. The wise emperor did this because he noticed that such sights tended to make the Romans hard-hearted and cruel.


A Chariot Race.

The great treasures which Augustus had brought back from Egypt and elsewhere, were now used to put up many fine buildings in Rome. Thus the city changed very rapidly under his rule; and his admirers even said that he found Rome of bricks and left it of marble.

About twenty-five years after Augustus became emperor, and during the peace, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea. This country was then a Roman province governed by Herod, whom Antony had made king.

With the birth of Christ a new era or epoch begins. Until now, in telling when anything happened, we have always told how many years it was before Christ (B.C.); but from this time on we simply give the number of the year after the birth of Christ, or add to this number the letters A.D., which mean "In the year of our Lord."

Although Augustus was polite and gentle, and an excellent ruler, he still had a few enemies; and among these was Cinna, a grandson of Pompey the Great. Cinna hated Augustus so bitterly that he once made an attempt to kill him. But Augustus sent for Cinna, told him that his plans were known, and asked why he was so anxious to see his ruler dead.

Cinna at first tried to deny that he had any such desire, but he was soon forced to confess all. Instead of sending him to prison, or having him executed on the spot, Augustus now freely forgave him. Cinna's heart was so deeply touched by this generosity that he humbly begged the emperor's pardon, and became his most faithful friend.