Why don’t I know more about Octavian?
I asked myself that question quite a few years ago and have been interested in him ever since.
Octavian was born in 63 BC. He was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar. In 27 BC, he took the name Caesar Augustus when he became the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. He ruled for the next 42 years until 14 AD. It was a period that came to be known as the “Pax Romana.”
He’s been considered arguably one of the greatest rulers to ever walk the face of the earth.
It’s written of him in the New Testament:
“Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from
Caesar Augustus that a census be taken of all the inhabited of the earth”
But it wasn’t this period that sparked my interest. It’s the one prior to it that begins in 44 BC when 18-year-old Octavian is away at camp and he gets the news that Caesar’s been assassinated back home in Rome. He’s devastated! His sadness soon turns to fury. Cunning and charismatic, he goes on a path of vengeance that doesn’t end until 27 BC when he becomes Ancient Rome’s first Emperor. He has “risen to power” in only 14 years. He’s still only 35 years old.
My curiosity was up… “How did young Octavian outwit and defeat such formidable characters as Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, Mark Antony & Cleopatra as well as others?” I wanted to find out what he was “really like!”
I looked for a book specifically written about Octavian’s life from 44 BC to 27 BC. I did read about him as Caesar Augustus. I read excellent biographies about his contemporaries; Cicero, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Antony and others. But I didn’t find what I was looking for!
I also watched any movies and TV productions I could find in which Octavian was a character, but I found them to be historically incorrect. He was usually a background character, depicted as being somewhat weird. I’d studied him enough to know that this wasn’t true. Another point that caught my attention was that these movies usually placed Octavian in Rome at the time of Caesar’s assassination. The truth is that he was very far away at a military school at the time.
Then, I looked at the “Tragedies” of Julius Caesar and Antony & Cleopatra written by William Shakespeare. It was immediately apparent that Octavian would only be a background character in their stories. So, given that Octavian’s story begins with Caesar’s assassination and ends with the suicides of Antony & Cleopatra, I agreed with the opinions of some historians that the subsequent rewriting and re-enacting of these great stories in books, plays, and then movies kept Octavian’s great story in the background. This has been the case from Shakespeare’s time right on through to modern times.
Finally, I decided to go back in time about 2000 years and consult the ancient historians. Here, I was surprised and very pleased to find eyewitness accounts, transcripts of conversations, speeches, details of battles, as well as insights into the personalities of the main characters. I found Appian to be an excellent resource. Suetonius, Plutarch, Dio and others were also great references. It was what I was looking for!
But the full story wasn’t all in one place! It would have to be pieced together by continuously going back and forth, comparing and cross-checking the works of the ancient historians and putting it together.
So, I decided to write “Octavian: Rise to Power” in the genre of an “historical novel” by extracting it nearly directly from the ancient historical record. I used fiction to convert narrative from the record into a corresponding version of reality. I felt this approach would help achieve a high level of historical correctness and at the same time develop the personalities of the main characters so that the reader would gain an understanding of “what they were really like!”
In doing so, the main characters came to life for me. I liked some of them a lot; others not so much, but they all came to life for me.
I hope they do for you too!