(aw guhs' tuhs) LATIN: AUGUSTUS

The designation Augustus was a title given by the Roman Senate in 27 B.C. to Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (Octavian), the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar. It recognized the power and almost divine authority of the man who was the founder of the Roman empire and its sole ruler from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14.

Born in 63 B.C., Octavian impressed Julius Caesar with his keen abilities, and in his will Caesar made the young man his principal heir. Octavian was only 19 when Caesar was assassinated, but he showed a remarkable combination of political acumen and total ruthlessness in navigating his way through the chaos of civil war. First, he combined with Caesar's lieutenant, Mark Antony, to crush the forces of the assassins, Cassius and Brutus, in 42 B.C. But growing conflict with Mark Antony, who married Cleopatra VII, queen of Egypt, led to a new civil war that ended with the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. Octavian was victorious, and Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide to avoid the ignominy of capture.

During the following years Octavian, under his new title Augustus, carefully used the powers of republican offices and the Roman tradition of patronage to create a web of authority that gave him complete political, military, and social control over the Roman realm. He was also able to maintain a peace that facilitated travel, trade, and prosperity throughout his sprawling empire. However, Augustus had great difficulty in establishing a successor for his office. He ultimately adopted his stepson Tiberius, whom he personally disliked, as the official recipient of what became the hereditary title of Roman emperor.

Augustus is mentioned in the Bible only in Luke 2:1, which tells of his decree when Quirinius was governor of Syria "that all the world should be enrolled" for taxation.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}