Michael Grant finds that much malignant gossip has gathered around the enigmatic personality of the second Roman Emperor whose peaceful reign extended from AD 14 until AD 37.

The long death-agony of the Roman Republic finally came to an end when there remained only one war-lord, the victorious Augustus. He has gone down to history as the first of the Roman emperors, and during his long reign (31 b.c.-a.d. 14) he refurbished or recast almost every element in the rusty Roman machine. His achievement was colossal: and he was therefore a very difficult man to succeed. Indeed, there was for many years, officially, no supposition that there would be any successor at all. Augustus did not openly proclaim that he was the founder of a dynasty. He made it pretty clear from his actions, however, that he intended to be. But in this matter, and in his domestic life (in marked contrast to most of his affairs), he was pursued by consistent ill-fortune. The young men in his family circle whom he deliberately advanced fell ill and died—first Marcellus, for whom Virgil reserves the pathetic climax of the Sixth Aeneid; then the ruler’s grandsons (sons of his daughter Julia and of Agrippa), first Lucius and then his elder brother Gaius.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week