Ancient Rome—Age of the Caesars

60 B. C. to 14 A.D.
First Triumvirate to Death of Augustus

Era Summary       Characters       Timeline       Reading Assignments      

Era Summary—Age of the Caesars

The transition of Rome from a Republic to an Empire was a gradual one. The transfer of political power from the Roman senate into the hands of the Emperor and the army began during the career of Julius Caesar and was complete during the life of Augustus Caesar, his heir. The period surrounding the career of the first two caesars is exceptionally dramatic and features several of the most famous characters and most consequential battles, in Roman history.

In the years following the Civil War of Marius and Sulla, several important political leaders arose. Julius Caesar, who as a young man had fled from Sulla's proscriptions, returned to Roman and gradually began to gain great influence with the populares party. On the side of the aristocrats, Cicero and Cato (the younger) arose. Cicero was an influential senator, known for putting down the Catiline conspiracy, an attempt by the populares to overthrow the republican government. Cicero was a prolific writer, and one of the best primary sources of this period of Roman history. Both Cicero and Cato were sincere republicans and well-versed spokesmen for the best ideals of republican government, but in spite of their sincere convictions and personal rectitude, they were unable to maintain power in an age of dictators and demagogues.


In 60 B.C. Crassus, Pompey , and Caesar put aside their political differences and formed the First Triumvirate, in which they divided the empire into three regions: Crassus help power in the east, Caesar in Hispania, and Pompey in Rome. Crassus soon perished on an ill-fated campaign in Parthia, leaving Pompey and Caesar in power. Caesar's enemies sought to send him far off to the western frontier to get him out of the way, but this proved a tremendous miscalculation. Caesar, who up to this time had no particular military experience, took this charge seriously and in the six years from 58 to 52 B.C., he led the Roman Conquest of Gaul, which brought the entire region of Gaul (modern France), under his sway. This was the greatest addition of Roman territory in over a century, and it brought him unbounded prestige and popularity within Rome and the army.

Caesar's enemies in Rome tried to deprive him of his legions and bring him back under control, but it was too late. In 49 B.C. Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army and marched on Rome, thereby provoking the Caesarean Civil War. Yet so great was his popularity that no army rose against him, and his enemies, including Pompey, fled to the east. Unlike his predecessors, Caesar ordered no purge of his political enemies, and in many ways tried hard to win over and reconcile them. He had an all-encompassing vision for the administration of an empire that had animated his actions for many years, and as soon as he came to power, he started implementing many of his reforms.

Although Caesar controlled the west with very little opposition, Pompey and his legions still held sway in the east. Caesar eventually raised an army to meet Pompey and beat him decisively at the Battle of Pharsalia. He did not seek to kill Pompey but desired to reconcile with him. Caesar pursued Pompey to Egypt, where Pompey was murdered by traitors. While in Egypt, Caesar became involved with Cleopatra and fought the Battle of Alexandria in order to secure her place on the Egyptian throne. He eventually returned to Rome, and began implementing his reforms in earnest, but in spite of all the effort he had put into reconciling with his enemies, a conspiracy formed against him. He was assassinated in the senate only five years after crossing the Rubicon, but his vision for a military based, centrally-administered empire survived him.

Augustus Caesar is usually considered the first Roman emperor because under his long reign Rome became reconciled to its new form of government. Rome had seen several dictators in the previous years, and the ideals of republican government had already given way, but it was not until the reign of Augustus that stability, peace, and prosperity returned to the government, and active opposition to the new regime ceased. Augustus, then known as Octavius, came to power in 43 B.C., shortly after the death of his uncle Julius Caesar. Although a young man, he was Caesar's heir, and by patience and persistence he was able to wrest enough power from Antony to establish himself as a joint ruler of Rome, part of the Second Triumvirate.

Octavius spent the early years of his reign consolidating power. This involved using force when necessary, as when he and Antony crushed the Republican opposition lead by Marcus Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi. But most of the time he followed the example of his uncle Julius Caesar, trying to reconcile his enemies. After Philippi, Octavius ruled jointly with Antony, but their relationship soured as a result of Antony's long and irresponsible dalliance with Cleopatra. Finally the two rulers, now bitter enemies, met at the Battle of Actium in 31 B.C. From this point until his death in 14 A.D., Octavius was sole ruler of the Roman Empire, although he was not declared Augustus for several more years.

Once Octavius' power was established, he followed through on many of Caesar's plans for the empire, including transferring administrative responsibility for most provinces to the army, tax reform, encouraging immigration, and investing in infrastructure and public works. Augustus and his advisor, Maecenas, were patrons of the arts, and under his reign literature flourished. The Latin poets Horace and Virgil, the historian Livy, and many other artists ushered in a great era of Latin literature and scholarship.

Characters—Age of the Caesars

Character/Date Short Biography

First Triumvirate

Julius Caesar
100–44 BC
Conquered Gaul, prevailed in civil war. Mastermind of Roman empire. Killed by senators.
106–48 BC
Very renowned general. Defeated pirates. Led opposition to Caesar in civil war.
110–53 BC
Very wealthy general. Fought Spartacus. Formed triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar.
106–43 BC
Orator. Leader of aristocratic party. Put down Catiline conspiracy. Well known writer.
108–62 BC
Led conspiracy to overthrow Senate; discovered and put down by Cicero.
Cato (the younger)
95–46 BC
Highly principled republican who opposed Caesar, killed self after defeat of Pompey.
93–52 BC
Violent enemy of Cicero. Populist rabble-rouser and demagogue.

Second Triumvirate

Augustus Caesar
First emperor. Reigned for over fifty years. Established the Imperial system.
d. 42 BC
Mastermind of conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. Committed suicide at Philippi.
Marcus Brutus
Leader of conspirators to assassinate Caesar. Committed suicide at Philippi.
83–30 BC
With Octavius, led empire after Caesar's death. Liaison with Cleopatra caused downfall.
77–40 BC
Wealthy and scheming Roman matron. Married to Clodius, then to Mark Antony. Enemy of Cicero.
70–20 BC
Queen of Egypt. Lover of both Caesar and Mark Antony.

Augustan Age

70–8 BC
Advisor and ambassador of Augustus. Patron of art and literature.
70–19 BC
Great epic poet of the Augustan age. Wrote The Aeneid.
65–8 BC
Great lyric poet and satirist of the Augustan age.
63–12 BC
Most trusted general and advisor of Augustus Caesar. Married Augustus's daughter Julia.
Wife of Augustus Caesar. Empress of Rome for over fifty years.
Roman historian. Wrote History of Rome from its Founding.
Julia Caesara
Profligate daughter of Augustus Caesar. Fell from grace and was banished from Rome.
Hero of Germany. Annihilated three Roman legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

Timeline—Age of the Caesars

BC YearEvent
63 Cicero discovers and puts down the Catiline Conspiracy.
60 Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar form the First Triumvirate.
58-51> Julius Caesar Conquers Gaul
57 Caesar annihilates the rebellious Nervii at the Battle of Sabis River.
54 Caesar invades Britain for a second time.
52 Caesar wins a great victory over Vercingetorix at the Battle of Alesia.
54 Death of Caesar's daughter, the wife of Pompey, strains the alliance between the two.
53 Death of Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae brings and end to the First Triumvirate.
49-44> Caesar plunges Rome into Civil War when he refuses to surrender his command.
49 Caesar crosses the Rubicon with his army and marches on Rome unopposed.
48 Caesar defeats Pompey at Battle of Pharsalia.
48 Caesar puts Cleopatra on throne of Egypt at Battle of Alexandria.
46 Suicide of Cato (the younger) after the Republican cause is defeated at the Thapsus.
44 Assassination of Julius Caesar
43 Octavius and Antony form Second Triumvirate and agree to the murder of Cicero.
42 Defeat of Republican army at Battle of Philippi.
40 Octavius marries his sister to Antony to strengthen their political alliance.
36 Antony renews his relationship with Cleopatra and moves to Alexandria.
31 Octavio defeats Antony at the Battle of Actium.
27 Octavius appointed imperator for life and becomes Augustus Caesar.
27 Gates of Janus shut. Beginning of Pax Romana.
0 AD Birth of Christ.
9 AD German chieftain Hermann Annihilates 3 Roman Legions at the Battle of Teutoberg Forest.
14 AD Tiberius, the eldest son of Livia becomes emperor on the death of Augustus, .

Recommended Reading—Age of the Caesars

Book Title
Selected Chapters (# chapters)

Core Reading Assignments

Guerber - The Story of the Romans   Conspiracy of Catiline to Death of Augustus (11)
Macgregor - The Story of Rome   Cicero Discovers Conspiracy to Emperor Augustus (23)

Supplemental Recommendations

Harding - The City of the Seven seven   Cicero, the Orator to Rome in the Time of Augustus (4)
Tappan - The Story of the Roman People   Caesar and Triumvirates to The Reign of Augustus (2)
Weston - Plutarch's Lives W. H. Weston   Julius Caesar to Brutus (2)
Morris - Historical Tales: Roman   Caesar and the Pirates to Antony and Cleopatra (4)
Church - Pictures from Roman Life and Story   A Child of Fortune to The Empress-Mother (6)
Gilman - The Story of Rome   Progress of the Pompey to Serious and Gay (6)
Kaufman - Our Young Folks' Plutarch   Cicero to Antony (5)
Russell - Julius Caesar    entire book
Francis - Augustus—His Life and Work    entire book
Upton - Herman and Thusnelda    entire book
Abbott - Cleopatra    entire book
Abbott - Julius Caesar    entire book
Church - Roman Life in the Days of Cicero    entire book

Easy Reading Selections

Haaren - Famous Men of Rome   Julius Cæsar to Augustus (3)
Dalkeith - Stories from Roman History   Of Julius Caesar: Soldier to Of Julius Caesar: Dead (4)
Gould - Tales of the Romans: The Children's Plutarch   Caesar and His Fortune to Caesar's Friend and Enemy (5)
Upton - Herman and Thusnelda    entire book