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Rome - The Imperators

Ruler: Octavian
Held Office: born 63 BC - 14 AD (as Augustus)
Denomination: AR Denarius
Mint: Italian (Rome?) mint
Date of Issue: Autumn 30 BC -summer 29 BC
Obverse: Laureate head of Apollo of Actium right, with features resembling Octavian.
Reverse: Octavian, as city founder of Nicopolis, veiled and in priestly robes, ploughing right with yoke of oxen, holding whip in left hand. In exergue "IMP. CAESAR"
Reference: RCVM 1560; RIC I 272; RSC 117
Weight: 3.6 gms
Diameter: 19.8 mm
Comment: The foundation of Nicopolis in Epirus, on a site close to Octavian's military camp during the Actian campaign, clearly provide the inpiration for this type. Here were settled large numbers of people from all the neighbouring communities of Epirus and Arcarnania and work on the new city seems to have commenced very soon after the great event which had been reponsible for its birth. The actual dedication probably took place in 29 B.C., by which time these coins would already have appeared in circulation. At Actium itself the temple of Apollo, the god to whom Octavian attributed his success, was enlarged and embellished, hence his depiction as the obverse type. The founder ploughing with oxen refers to the Roman custom (inherited from the Etruscans) of fixing the boundary (pomoerium) of a new city by marking it with a furrow. This ceremony possessed a deep religious significance, hence the founder's priestly garb.
Sear: The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators 79-27 BC

Octavian (Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus)

Octavian was the great nephew of Julius Caesar. Caesar was fond of the youth and had him raised to the College of Pontifices-a major Roman priesthood-at the age of 16. When Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, Octavius was in Illyria, where he was serving in the army; on his return to Italy, he learned that he was Caesar's adopted heir. He subsequently took the name Gaius Julius Caesar, to which historians have added Octavianus.

Caesar's assassination plunged Rome into turmoil. Octavian, determined to avenge his adoptive father and secure his position, vied with Mark Antony, Caesar's ambitious colleague, for power and honour. After some political and military skirmishes, during which Antony was driven across the Alps while Octavian was made senator and then consul, Octavian recognized the necessity of making peace with his rival. In late 43 BC, the two together with Antony's ally, the general Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, met and formed the Second Triumvirate to rule the Roman provinces. The alliance was sealed by a wide-ranging proscription, in which their opponents including 300 senators and 200 knights were slain. Among those killed was the ageing orator Cicero.

Octavian and Antony next took the field against the leaders of Caesar's assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, both of whom committed suicide in 42 BC, after their defeat at Philippi in Macedonia, Greece. By 40 BC the triumvirs had divided control of the Roman world amongst themselves. Octavian ruled most of the western provinces, Antony the eastern ones, and Lepidus Africa. Although Antony and Octavian clashed over control of Italy, they settled their differences, and in 37 BC Octavian gave Antony his sister, Octavia, in marriage. In 36 BC, Sextus Pompeius, son of Pompey the Great and the last major opponent of the triumvirs, was eliminated. Octavian then forced Lepidus from power, while Antony was in the east fighting the Parthians.

The triumvirate was finally dissolved when Antony sent Octavia back to Rome, and soon after married Cleopatra, whom Caesar had installed as Queen of Egypt. By recognizing Caesarion, her son by Caesar, as her co-ruler, Anthony threatened Octavian's position as Caesar's only successor, and war was inevitable. Octavian defeated the joint forces of Antony and Cleopatra at the naval battle of Actium in 31 BC; the following year Antony and Cleopatra both committed suicide. Caesarion was murdered. In 29 BC Octavian returned to Rome in triumph as the sole ruler of the Roman world.

In 27 BC the Roman Senate gave Octavian the title Augustus ("consecrated", or "holy"), which later became synonymous with "emperor". The Senate bestowed on him a host of other titles and powers that had been held by many different officials in the Republic. In 36 BC he was granted the inviolability of a plebeian tribune, and in 30 BC he received the powers of a tribune, thus giving him the veto and control over assemblies. The Senate also granted him ultimate authority in the provinces; this, together with the consulship of Rome and Italy, which he held 13 times during his reign, conferred on him supreme authority throughout the empire. After the death of Lepidus he also became Pontifex Maximus ("chief priest") with control over religion. Despite his pre-eminence as reflected in the titles princeps, or first citizen, and imperator (from which "emperor" is derived), Augustus was careful not to take on the trappings of monarchy. In fact, he made much of the claim that he was restoring the Roman Republic.

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