All entries for Tuesday 15 July 2014

July 15, 2014

Augustus and Communicating the Succession

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Augustus and Agrippa seated on a platform

As the first emperor or princeps of Rome, Augustus' power was based solely on the positions he held and his proven achievements. There was no established mechanism by which a successor could come to power; the idea of a hereditary monarchy did not exist. Therefore the question of who or what would follow Augustus was a problem indeed, particularly since Augustus himself had no living male heir when he became seriously ill in 23 BC. After the death of her first husband, Augustus married his daughter Julia to his chief general and advisor, Agrippa. The sons of this union, Gaius and Lucius Caesar, were then adopted by Augustus in 17 BC. In order to designate them as successors these brothers were granted a series of honours and positions in spite of their young ages.

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Aureus with Augustus and Agrippa

The entire process of appointing a successor a delicate one, and one of our first indications of an official statement of dynastic ideology can be found in a series of coins issued at Rome in 13 BC. This was the year the tribunician power of Augustus and Agrippa was renewed, and Agrippa is shown on the coinage as Augustus' colleague (just as he is later named as a colleague in the Res Gestae Divi Augusti 8.2). Coins show Augustus and Agrippa side-by-side: on the coin above, the portrait of Augustus graces the obverse, while Augustus and Agrippa are seated in togas on the reverse (RIC 12 407). Other issues of this year display the head of Augustus on one side, and the head of Agrippa on the other. On the silver denarius issue of this type, both Augustus and Agrippa are bare-headed, while on the gold aureus issue shown here Augustus wears an oak-crown (an honour granted him by the Senate) and Agrippa a combined mural and rostral crown, which combined the walls of a city and the prow of a ship (RIC 12 409). Silver denarii were also struck showing Julia and her two sons: the obverse carries the portrait of Augustus accompanied by a lituus, and the reverse displays the bust of Julia with a wreath above it, flanked by the busts of her sons (RIC 12 404-5).

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Denarius showing Julia between Gaius and Lucius

Alas, the following year Agrippa died, and Gaius and Lucius would both also die before Augustus. It was this series of unfortunate deaths that meant that Tiberius would marry Julia and as Augustus' adopted son, become the successor of his power and offices.


(Images are © The Trustees of the British Museum).

Good images of all of Augustus' coinage can also now be found on the Online Coins of the Roman Empire site.


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