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The Rise Of Octavian Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History; 46 BC to 54 AD Notes

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Was Octavian's rise to power more the result of mistakes of the others than of his own talents?
Octavian's rise to power was meteoric and even surpassed that of his own adoptive father Julius; he found himself sole master of Rome and the empire in a comparatively very short period of time, paving the way for all the emperors that were to come. However, at the beginning of his career, it was not his supreme talents as a politician alone which brought him to power, but rather it was a mixture of mistakes by others and sheer good fortune that saw him find himself in the position that he did. It is important to realise that great figures such as Cicero and Antony were not infallible, nor was Octavian, but it was he who was able to take fullest advantage of the combination of these factors to achieve predominance in the state. It was the talents of Cicero, not Octavian, which originally brought the young man into a position of significant power in Rome. The orator wished to use him as a blunt instrument with which to destroy Marc Antony on behalf of the state, however this was a crucial miscalculation on his part because once he had raised him up he found that he was unable to bring him down and for a second time a Caesar crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome. Cicero's fifth Philippic is a good example of the invective and criticism he threw at Marc Antony on the one hand and the praise with which he built up the talents and importance of Octavian on the other. He compares Antony to Hannibal, the most iconic and terrifying bogey man in Roman history and he says that in the face of such a grave threat they have at their disposal a heaven-sent saviour, Octavian. He urges them to let this new Caesar defend the state and the liberty which is most dear to him and crush the true threat to these things, Antony. Cicero says that the senate should give him the imperium of a propraetor along with membership of the senate, despite the fact he is, by Roman law, far too young to hold either position. This gave validation to the personal army Suetonius says he had spent his own money raising, "Augustus spent as much money as he could raise on enlisting a force of veterans to protect himself and the commonwealth." The historian gives him the credit of having the noble aims of protecting the state; this is what Cicero thought and hoped of the young Octavian, but in this hope he was proven to be gravely mistaken. Previously he had simply been a private individual with an illegal army fighting against a legitimate consul of Rome, but now, thanks to Cicero, all his actions were sanctioned by the senate and this allowed him to increase his army and consolidate his position with impunity. As the heir of the dictator Caesar there were many reasons to suspect his true intentions, as Brutus reveals in his letters to Atticus, but Cicero was so blinded by his fear and hatred of Antony that he did not see that he was bringing to prominence a man who would be, in the long run, far more fatal to the republic than Antony ever threatened to be. In fact Antony had offered to give up a lot of his power and keep only what was necessary for his own protection but thanks to the anti-Antonian line pushed by Cicero the senate refused this and

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