There will be no animals sacrificed on Tuesday, August 19, 2014, nor will priests hold ceremonies at the ruins of any temples of Jupiter. Yet the Western world should nonetheless pause to commemorate on that day the 2,000th anniversary of the death of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome. While Roman religion has long since disappeared, along with Rome’s legions, its senate, and its gladiatorial bouts, the modern world nonetheless continues to owe much of its political, cultural, and technological patrimony to ancient Rome. And that Rome was in many ways the creation of Gaius Octavius, also known as Imperator Caesar Augustus. By any estimate of achievement, Augustus was one of the most important and successful figures in all of world history.
When the world of republican Rome collapsed in unrestrained civil war in 49 b.c., any rational observer would have assumed that the ultimate winner would be one of the giants of the time: Julius Caesar, whose crossing of the Rubicon that year precipitated the final crisis; larger-than-life Pompey the Great; the hedonistic Mark Antony; or the fantastically wealthy Marcus Crassus. Other great names from those years, such as Cicero and Cato, loomed as large in the eyes of the terrified and fascinated Mediterranean world, as it appeared that Rome was going to tear itself apart.