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Lucius Junius Brutus Octavianus (23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) was a politician and religious figure in the ancient Roman Republic. Born Gaius Octavius Thurinus, he was adopted posthumously by his friend and mentor Lucius Junius Brutus in 22 BC.
While his paternal family was from the town of Velitrae, about 25 miles from Rome, Octavius was born in the city of Rome on 23 September 63 BC. He was born at Ox Heads, which was a small property on the Palatine Hill, very close to the Roman Forum. An astrologer had given a warning to his father, but his father chose to ignore it (rather than leave the child in the open to be eaten by dogs). He was given the name Gaius Octavius Thurinus, his cognomen possibly commemorating his father's victory at Thurii over a rebellious band of slaves. Due to the crowded nature of Rome at the time, Octavius was taken to his father's home village at Velitrae to be raised. Octavius only mentions his father's equestrian family briefly in his memoirs. His paternal great-grandfather was a military tribune in Sicily during the Second Punic War. His grandfather had served in several local political offices. His father, also named Gaius Octavius, had been governor of Macedonia. His mother Atia was the niece of Julius Caesar.
In 59 BC, when he was four years old, his father died. His mother married a former governor of Syria, Lucius Marcius Philippus. Philippus claimed descent from Alexander the Great, and was elected consul in 56 BC. Philippus never had much of an interest in young Octavius. Because of this, Octavius was raised by his grandmother (and Julius Caesar's sister), Julia Caesaris.
In 52 or 51 BC, Julia Caesaris died. Octavius delivered the funeral oration for his grandmother. From this point, his mother and stepfather took a more active role in raising him. He donned the toga virilis four years later, and was elected to the College of Pontiffs in 47 BC.
Rise to Power
After Julius Caesar died in 54 BC, Octavius took a keen interest in the life of his famous uncle. He petitioned Caesar's beneficiary, Lucius Junius Brutus, for access to his uncle's journals and studied them diligently. This also marked the beginning of Octavian's relationship with Brutus, who would introduce him to the world of politics. Octavius was fascinated with his uncle's populist methods and used many of them to ensure his election to the College of Pontiffs. There he amassed much influence and began introducing several ideas based on his views of Roman religion and its place within the Republic. In 41 BC Brutus was elected Consul of Rome and used his influence to appoint Octavius as a Praetor. In this position he was able to gather supporters and resources for his own bid for Consulship, which he achieved in 36 BC.
Consul, Pontifex Maximus, and Cleopatra
Octavius's reign as Consul was marked by several major reforms with which he intended to create greater unity within the republic. With Roman territory extending over such a large area, with many different languages and cultures, regional ideals tended to trump national ideals, and to Octavius, this would not do. In 34 BC he introduced compulsory education in a standardized Latin language, as well as Roman history, the curriculum of such was designed to emphasize the greatness of Rome, while attributing that greatness not just to Rome itself, but to the contributions of those who have been brought into the Roman sphere of influence. This compulsory education was hoped to create a unified language of the people of the entire republic, to aid in common communication, and to increase assimilation of conquered people to reduce unrest in frontier lands.
In 33 BC Octavius was elected Pontifex Maximus. Now attaining the highest position within the Roman religion, as well as the highest position in civilian government, Octavius began to more strictly structure the Roman state religion based on his own beliefs and theories. These reforms he hoped would make Roman religion more accessible to conquered tribes and peoples allowing quicker assimilation, as well as creating another point of pride in Roman culture to foster Roman nationalism.
In 32 BC the Egyptian royal Cleopatra arrived in Rome as an exile. Her brother Ptolemy XIII after years of civil war had driven her out of Egypt, and she had come to Rome to seek aid in regaining her throne. Octavius was charmed by the woman despite her being nearly 10 years older than he. After brief negotiations Octavius and Brutus agreed to aid Cleopatra in re-attaining the throne in exchange for an alliance against any Carthagininan aggression, and unlimited access to Egypt's grain production. During the short wars to oust Ptolemy, Octavius and Cleopatra became close, and upon Cleopatra again obtaining the throne, they were married. While their marriage was not recognized in Rome due to Roman laws, in Egypt their coupling was celebrated. They had 3 children. Octavius' advice lead Cleopatra to institute similar unifying reforms in Egypt.
In 23 BC his friend and mentor Brutus died, leaving Octavius as heir to his properties and name. With Brutus' death leaving a vacant Consulship, Octavius used his position and immense popularity to amend Roman law. He first eliminated the requirement for two Consuls, then eliminated the position of Rex Sacrorum, dividing the duties among the Consul and Pontifex Maximus.
As the years went by Octavius began to believe his own hype, becoming more and more devout to the religion he was shaping, and in 14 BC he officially establishes the Greco-Roman Temple as a separate entity from the Roman government. The same year Octavius' wife Cleopatra, dies in Egypt. His son Julius I becomes pharaoh of Egypt.
In 11 BC Octavius resigns as Consul to devote his attentions to his position as Pontifex Maximus and the growing temple.
In 14 BC Octavius dies. He is the first mortal to be deemed a demigod in the Greco-Roman temple.