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It’s now easy to take for granted that images of political leaders decorate our currency – Augustus was among the first rulers to widely disseminate images of his own face on coins.His face was always depicted in the prime of life; no wrinkles or signs of aging were permitted.Exposing unwanted babies after birth was a common practice in ancient Rome, as was adultery among members of the ruling class.
However familiar life and politics in ancient Rome can seem, certain details remind us that we’re confronting a culture that is also distant and strange.
In his old age, Augustus exposed his infant grandson because the baby was born to his daughter from an adulterous affair.
He loved to decline the ovations and triumphal ceremonies the Roman Senate showered on him after military success, and he refused to let his form appear in the sculpted company of the Olympic gods in the Roman pantheon.
This added the luster of modesty to his reputation, but it did little to disguise the reality that he controlled the army and by proxy the entire Roman Empire.
The victory that made Caesar Augustus the most powerful man in the ancient world was hardly inevitable; in fact his entire rise to power was improbable.
The great nephew of the murdered Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus was only 18 when he entered the violent and complex world of Roman politics.
He was fairly small in stature, but he always tried to appear tall when he made public appearances.
Perhaps his most effective public relations technique was strategic false modesty.
After his great uncle was assassinated in 44 BC, he faced so many formidable rivals that a sensible trainer probably would not have bothered to teach the birds his name at all.
The dramatic rise and long rule of Caesar Augustus is the subject of Adrian Goldsworthy’s substantial new biography, Augustus: First Emperor of Rome.