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I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.
Wars, both civil and foreign, I undertook throughout the world, on sea and land, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sued for pardon.
I declined to be made Pontifex Maximus in succession to a colleague still living, when the people tendered me that priesthood which my father had held. Several years later I accepted that sacred office when he at last was dead...

Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August 14), born Gaius Octavius, was the adopted son of Julius Caesar and the first Roman Emperor. He also became a pontiff and later Pontifex Maximus.


  • Si sine uxore pati possemus, Quirites, omnes ea molestia careremus; set quoniam ita natura tradidit, ut nec cum illis satis commode, nec sine illis ullo modo vivi possit, saluti perpetuae potius quam brevi voluptati consulendum est.
    • If we could survive without a wife, citizens of Rome, all of us would do without that nuisance; but since nature has so decreed that we cannot manage comfortably with them, nor live in any way without them, we must plan for our lasting preservation rather than for our temporary pleasure.
    • From a speech regarding the morality laws of Lex Julia. Livy's account states the speech was plagiarized by Augustus from another by Q. Metellus (Periochae 59.9). A fragment of this original speech (quoted) is preserved by A. Gellius (Noctes Atticae 1.6).
  • Festina lente.
    • Make haste slowly.
    • As quoted in Houghton, Mifflin, Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men (1882), p. 25
    • Variant translations: "Hurry slowly"; or, "Hasten slowly." Originally quoted in Greek, in Suetonius, II. Augustus, section 25, but better known in the Latin form, as reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 50
  • Young men, hear an old man to whom old men hearkened when he was young.
  • Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.
    • Statement made as he was dying, as quoted in The Fall of the Roman Empire (2007) by Rita J. Markel, p. 126
  • To seek to keep the established constitution unchanged argues a good citizen and a good man.
    • Of Cato, as quoted in An Examination of the Isis Cult with Preliminary Exploration into New Testament Studies (2008) by Elizabeth A. McCabe
  • May it be my privilege to have the happiness of establishing the commonwealth on a firm and secure basis and thus enjoy the reward which I desire, but only if I may be called the author of the best possible government; and bear with me the hope when I die that the foundations which I have laid for its future government, will stand firm and stable.
  • Marmoream relinquo, quam latericiam accepi.
    • I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.
    • Quoted in Svetonius, Lives of the Cesars, Aug., XXVIII, 3
  • I came to see a king, not a row of corpses.
    • After having visited the mausoleum of Alexander the Great in Alexandria, Augustus was asked if he also wanted to visit the mausoleum of the Ptolemies; in Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 16. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.
  • Sat celeriter fieri, quidquid fiat satis bene.
    • Whatever is done well enough is done quickly enough.
    • In Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, II., 25.
    • Cf. Shakespeare, Macbeth I. vii, "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly".
  • En Romanos, rerum dominos, gentemque togatam!
    • Behold them, conquerors of the world, the toga-clad race of Romans!
    • Said disparagingly of a group of men in cloaks, quoting Virgil's The Aeneid. Augustus allowed only those wearing a toga and no cloak to enter the Forum; in Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 40. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.
  • I had a good mind to discontinue permanently the supply of grain to the city, reliance on which had discouraged Italian agriculture, but refrained because some politician would be bound one day to revive the dole as a means of ingratiating himself with the people.
  • Aetati tuae, mi Tiberi, noli in hac re indulgere et nimium indignari quemquam esse, qui de me male loquatur; satis est enim, si hoc habemus ne quis nobis male facere possit.
    • My dear Tiberius, you must not give way to youthful emotion or take it to heart if anyone speaks ill of me; let us be satisfied if we can make people stop short at unkind words.
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 51. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.
    • Ut vides, klimaktera communem seniorum omnium tertium et sexagesimum annum evasimus.
    • I have escaped, as you see, the common climacteric of all old men—my sixty-third year.
    • Epistle to Caius Caesar (Aul. Gell. Noct. Att. xv. 7.), written on 23 September A.D. 1.
  • Αἴθ᾽ ὄφελον ἄγαμός τ᾽ ἔμεναι ἄγονός τ᾽ ἀπολέσθαι.
    • Ah, never to have married, and childless to have died!
    • Quoting Homer's Iliad. Augustus was frequently disappointed in the conduct of his daughter Julia; in Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 65. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.
  • Livia, nostri coniugii memor vive, ac vale!
    • Goodbye, Livia; remember our marriage!
    • Said to his wife Livia on his deathbed; in Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 99. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.

Res Gestae Divi Augusti

Res Gestae Divi Augusti as translated in Loeb Library edition (1924)
  • At the age of nineteen, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army by means of which I restored liberty to the republic, which had been oppressed by the tyranny of a faction. For which service the senate, with complimentary resolutions, enrolled me in its order...
  • Those who slew my father I drove into exile, punishing their deed by due process of law, and afterwards when they waged war upon the republic I twice defeated them in battle.
  • Wars, both civil and foreign, I undertook throughout the world, on sea and land, and when victorious I spared all citizens who sued for pardon. The foreign nations which could with safety be pardoned I preferred to save rather than to destroy.
  • I declined to be made Pontifex Maximus in succession to a colleague still living, when the people tendered me that priesthood which my father had held. Several years later I accepted that sacred office when he at last was dead who, taking advantage of a time of civil disturbance, had seized it for himself, such a multitude from all Italy assembling for my election, in the consulship of Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Valgius, as is never recorded to have been in Rome before.
  • Iuravit in mea verba tota Italia.
    • The whole of Italy swore allegiance to me.
    • XXV, 3-4. Translation by Thomas Bushnell

About Augustus

  • He could boast that he inherited it brick and left it marble.
    • Suetonius, of Augustus and the city of Rome, in Lives of the Caesars, Divus Augustus, XXVIII, 3.
  • Juniores post Actiacam victoriam, etiam senes plerique inter bella civium nati: quotus quisque reliquus qui rem publicam vidisset? Igitur verso civitatis statu nihil usquam prisci et integri moris: omnes exuta aequalitate iussa principis aspectare, nulla in praesens formidine, dum Augustus aetate validus seque et domum et pacem sustentavit. Postquam provecta jam senectus aegro et corpore fatigabatur aderatque finis et spes novae, pauci bona libertatis in cassum disserere, plures bellum pavescere, alii cupere. Pars multo maxima inminentis dominos variis rumoribus differebant.
    • The younger men had been born after the victory of Actium; most even of the elder generation, during the civil wars; few indeed were left who had seen the Republic. It was thus an altered world, and of the old, unspoilt Roman character not a trace lingered. Equality was an outworn creed, and all eyes looked to the mandate of the sovereign—with no immediate misgivings, so long as Augustus in the full vigour of his prime upheld himself, his house, and peace. But when the wearing effects of bodily sickness added themselves to advancing years, and the end was coming and new hopes dawning, a few voices began idly to discuss the blessings of freedom; more were apprehensive of war; others desired it; the great majority merely exchanged gossip derogatory to their future masters.
      • Tacitus, Annals, book I, 3-4, on how people had forgotten what the Republic was like, and a possible upcoming problem of succession after Augustus' death. Translated by John Jackson (1931) for the Loeb Classical Library.
  • He [Julius Caesar] learned that Alexander, having completed nearly all his conquests by the time he was thirty-two years old, was at an utter loss to know what he should do during the rest of his life, whereat Augustus expressed his surprise that Alexander did not regard it as a greater task to set in order the empire which he had won than to win it.
  • He could not even stand up to review his fleet when the ships were already at their fighting stations, but lay on his back and gazed up at the sky, never rising to show that he was alive until Marcus Agrippa had routed the enemy.
  • Postquam bis classe victus naves perdidit, Aliquando ut vincat, ludit assidue aleam.
    • He took a beating twice at sea, And threw two fleets away. So now to achieve one victory, He tosses dice all day.
    • A popular rhyme at the time of the Sicilian war, mocking Augustus' habit of playing dice; in Suetonius, Divus Augustus, paragraph 70. Translation: Robert Graves, 1957.
  • The story of his career shows that Augustus was indeed ruthless, cruel, and ambitious for himself. This was only in part a personal trait, for upper-class Romans were educated to compete with one another and to excel. However, he combined an overriding concern for his personal interests with a deep-seated patriotism, based on a nostalgia of Rome's antique virtues. In his capacity as princeps, selfishness and selflessness coexisted in his mind. While fighting for dominance, he paid little attention to legality or to the normal civilities of political life. He was devious, untrustworthy, and bloodthirsty. But once he had established his authority, he governed efficiently and justly, generally allowed freedom of speech, and promoted the rule of law. He was immensely hardworking and tried as hard as any democratic parliamentarian to treat his senatorial colleagues with respect and sensitivity. He suffered from no delusions of grandeur.
    • Anthony Everitt in Augustus : The Life of Rome's First Emperor (2006)
  • Fame was Caesar’s destiny, but true greatness was Octavian’s. Imperium was almost written on Octavian’s face: his bright eyes and magnetically handsome features were somehow accentuated by a tousled, slightly dishevelled experience, which would have suggested an utter lack of vanity were it not for the fact that he wore steel-heeled shoes to raise him above his natural height of 5’7”. Octavian succeeded were Caesar had not, avenging his father’s death and defeating his enemies in battle, eventually emerging as Rome’s sole, uncontested ruler. As Augustus he accrued himself all the carefully separated political powers of the Republic, effectively playing senator, consul and tribune, pontifex maximus (high priest) and supreme military commander all at once. Augustus’ character divided Roman opinion – was he a high-minded visionary and peerless soldier-politician, or a corrupt, bloodthirsty, treacherous tyrant, wondered the historian Tacitus (c. AD 58-116), without committing to either judgment. But his achievements as emperor – or as he preferred it, First Citizen (Princeps civitatis) – were impossible to gainsay. On taking power he stamped out the embers of the late Republic’s debilitating civil war. He transformed the city of Rome with grandiose building projects – some of them already begun under Caesar and others of his own design. The 500-acre Field of Mars (Campus Martius), littered with temples and monuments, was radically rebuilt. New theatres, aqueducts, and roads were commissioned. Only the finest building materials passed muster: on his deathbed Augustus bragged that he had found Rome a city of brick, but left it a city of marble. He carried out sweeping reforms to government, concentrating power in his own hands at the expense of the Senate, and encouraging a personal cult of imperial magnificence, which evolved under his successors until some emperors were venerated as demi-gods.  
    • Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021), pp. 15-16
  • Augustus pursued power relentlessly and then clung to it, whatever he might pretend in public. Such ambition is surely the hallmark of any successful political leader – and no doubt plenty of less successful ones. Yet in his case he made use of that power for the common good. He worked hard to make the res publica function again, and we cannot deny that he succeeded, since the peace and stability he imposed brought ever greater levels of prosperity. At a basic level more people were better-off under his principate than they had been for several generations. The concerns he dealt with were traditional ones, even if some of his methods were innovative. Julius Caesar had tried to address several of these issues, as had others, but none had the chance to deal with them as thoroughly as Augustus. In the process he made sure that it was well known that he was working for the common good, but once again such advertising was what any Roman politician would have done. By doing favours for individuals and whole communities he placed them in his debt, and so, as so often, personal advantage was intertwined with the wider good. That does not alter the fact that he did rule well, whatever his motivation.

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