The end of the Roman Civil War and Augustus' Triumphs

14 August 29 BCE in Rome, Octavian held the second of three days of triumph, granted by the Senate to celebrate his victories and the end of the Roman Civil War.

“Twice I triumphed with an ovation thrice I celebrated curule triumphs, and was saluted as imperator twenty-one times. … In my triumphs there were led before my chariot nine kings or children of kings.” (Res Gestae Divi Augusti)

Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824 - 1904): "The Age of Augustus" (1854)

The amount of sheer sprezzatura Octavian displayed especially in his post-war propaganda was rarely rivalled by any other autocrat throughout recorded human history. Especially in regards to mythical gestures, but then, he was adopted by a divinised great-uncle and about to become a deity himself. In this rather sacramental reference frame, the “dux Italiae” (Leader of Italy) had the Gates of Janus on the Forum closed, a sign that the Roman Republic was no longer at war. A gesture that happened only twice in Rome’s history ab urbe condita before his birth, as Octavian ascertained posterity in all modesty in his autobiography. The classical sentence Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!": "Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you'll die! whispered in the ear of a triumphator during the popular pageants seems almost redundant under these auspices, but when Octavian was granted not one but three triumphs during the month of Sextilis that was later called August in his honour, such minor slippages from Republic tradition did not play a significant role for the god-to-be anyway.

A contemporary three-layered sardonyx cameo showing Octavian as triumphator,
now part of the Aachen Cathedral Treasury (Aachener Domschatzkammer)
and the consecutive Imperial tradition of the Holy Roman Empire.

Celebrated were the victory over the Dalmatian tribes on the feast day of Hercules Victor, August 13th, the campaign that brought Caesar’s old legions back into fighting trim while Mark Antony’s men got one licking after the other on the Euphrates against the Parthians between 34 and 33 BCE. The next day saw the triumph for decisively winning the naval Battle of Actium and the third the celebration of the conquest of Egypt. Ironically enough, Octavian himself did not lead a single cohort during these conflicts but had the good sense to appoint the right men for the job, first and foremost his old friend Marcus Agrippa. With the beginning of the next year, the Civil War was officially declared to be over in the Senate. The death throes of the Republic had lasted for four generations since the Gracchi started their futile attempt to reform the state in 133 BCE, saw the rise and fall and death of Marius, Sulla, Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and now, with the Republic formally reestablished, Octavian or Augustus as he was to be called soon, went about to establish the principate and the Augustan Golden Age and what was known to be the Roman Empire. And, interestingly enough, Octavian voluntarily underwent the third major change in his long life, from the juvenile rogue to the ruthless powermonger and, finally, to the august and wise statesman, who indeed brought peace and prosperity to Rome. With a twinkle in his breaking eyes, he said on his deathbed: “I think I’ve done a good job”. And he did.

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