Augustus is, in a word, fascinating. Instead of launching into an abridged biography the way I did with Alcibiades and Mithridates, I’m going to talk about some hilarious fun facts about Rome’s Pater Patriae.
“He desired also to revive the ancient fashion of dress, and once when he saw in an assembly a throng of men in dark cloaks, he cried out indignantly, “Behold them Romans, lords of the world, the nation clad in the toga,”and he directed the aediles never again to allow anyone to appear in the Forum or its neighbourhood except in the toga and without a cloak.” – Suetonius, Life of Augustus
Augustus was very concerned about things like tradition and fashion. Suetonius mentions that most of the time he wore basic clothes unless there was a special occasion, but he DID wear sandals with little platforms built into them so that he could appear taller. He would also saunter about in the summertime with a broad sunhat in order to keep cool.
Apparently he was a very dainty eater, and consumed wine very moderately. In fact, if he had more than a glass of it, he would intentionally throw it up later.
Here’s a fun quotation I found about his preferred way to exercise as he got older:
“Immediately after the civil war he gave up exercise with horses and arms in the Campus Martius, at first turning to pass-ball and balloon-ball, but soon confining himself to riding or taking a walk, ending the latter by running and leaping, wrapped in a mantle or a blanket.”
So what I can infer from this, you know, as a historian, is that Augustus would take a running leap in a beautiful cape like the goddamn superhero of the Ancient World he was.
Okay one more:
“To divert his mind he sometimes angled and sometimes played at dice, marbles and nuts with little boys, searching everywhere for such as were attractive for their pretty faces or their prattle, especially Syrians or Moors; for he abhorred dwarfs, cripples, and everything of that sort, as freaks of nature and of ill omen.”
Oh, and he was absolutely terrified of thunder and lightning. Suetonius says he would carry a seal skin for protection and hide in a vaulted underground room every time a thunderstorm happened. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the living deity Augustus.
So, one of the main things you can take away from Suetonius’ Life of Augustus is that he tried to live life as simply, modestly, and conservatively as possible. One of the greatest struggles he had in his entire life was trying to find and keep an heir that wouldn’t die, as well as dealing with all the shit his daughter put him through on the reg.
Julia the Elder was the daughter of Augustus and his second wife Scribonia. She was, how you say, a wild trollop. And good for her! Augustus married her off three times to Marcellus, his number one homie for life Agrippa, and finally to Tiberius (who would succeed Augustus.)
One of my favourite stories about her is an episode in which lead to her banishment from Rome and the forced exiles, suicides, or executions of several men. Ancient rumour has it that she would partake in nightly ‘drinking parties’ (see also: wild orgies) at the Roman Forum. She was banished to an island that was roughly one squared kilometre. I’m sure Augustus would not want that to be what you remember, but because this blog post is essentially Gossip Girl: Ancient Rome Edition, it felt necessary to mention.
Before I prance off into the horizon, I’m just going to leave you with this page I found on Augustus that is just full of nonsense but may just be one of the best things I’ve ever seen. According to this website, Augustus’ full title was: Emperor Augustus Julius Caesar. Squiggle-Prince of the Roman Republic When Doves Cry, Conqueror of Traitors, Stabbers, Barbarians, Oriental Seducers.. Etc Etc. Nice guy.
As a historian, I’ll allow it.