Octavian, Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, who died 2,000 years ago – on August 19, A.D. 14 – was reported by second-century Roman historian Dio Cassius, to have said of himself, “I found Rome a city of clay: I leave it to you in marble.” His meaning encompassed not only the actual building of theaters, aqueducts, roads and other infrastructure, but also referred to the stability of Rome itself, after a long period of civil war, as a positive political and cultural entity which produced peace and prosperity across the Mediterranean sphere.
The echo of the Pax Romana, (Roman Peace) which Augustus fostered, was Rome at its zenith, which echoes down to the present time. The Romans were brilliant engineers, administrators, magistrates, legislators, military men and architects with a fondness for Greek culture and art. Western civilization was born in the traditions of Rome.
Their public buildings, many still standing today, were models for many United States of America buildings such as the Washington D.C. domed Capitol, as well as many others across the nation.
Augustus, Julius Caesar’s adopted son and heir, was nineteen when he came to power as part of the second Triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus. They divided up the Roman realm among themselves and met to plan their actions.
The first order of business was to draw up a list of main political rivals and enemies…and proceeded to eliminate them…including the great orator Cicero, whose name appeared on Antony’s list.
Eventually Augustus prevailed over all his rivals and was clever enough to clothe himself in the respected old Roman virtues and traditions so the people believed they had kept their freedoms and country, when in fact, all power resided in Augustus’s sole control.
At his death, the nation was gripped by an outpouring of grief. He had lived for seventy-five years, ten months and twenty-six days – he had been born on the twenty-third of September and had been sole ruler for forty-four years, less thirteen days.
After many processions with members of the senate, the knights and Praetorian Guard, the coffin, covered by a pall of ivory and gold, was placed on the pyre in the Campus Martinus, where all the priests marched around it.
The Praetorian Guard circled it at a run and threw on to it all triumphal decorations which any of them had ever received from the emperor for acts of valor.
After this the centurions took torches, as dictated by the senate, and set fire to the pyre from below.
As it was consumed an eagle was released from it and flew aloft to bear the emperor’s spirit to heaven.
The symbol of strength in the eagle rising endures to today.
Today America has taken the eagle as her symbol and the picture painted by the rising eagle of Roman history also reminds us that we too can rise from our circumstances. America has been great and we can be great again.
This is original artwork from the book: Lamb of Liberty by William T. Newton.
Source: Roman historian Dio Cassius quoted in “Words of the Ancient Romans: Primary Sources” and “From Founding to Fall: A History of Rome” – both authored by Don Nardo – The Lucent Library of Historical Eras.