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The Problem of Succession

One problem that Augustus failed to resolve in a lasting manner was that of succession. All the powers, titles and honours bestowed on Augustus was given to him personally and they were not hereditary, so in principle the senate could select a new princeps at his death. The huge personal fortune Augustus had accumulated was a part of his power-base, but not enough in itself to assure that his chosen heir could take over the powers of Augustus.

Augustus only had one natural child, his daughter Julia of his first wife Scribonia. Augustus had divorced Scribonia in 38 BCE to marry Livia, whose former husbond had been force to divorce her to allow the new marriage. It was a political marriage, whose main purpose was to bring together the gens julia, the family of Julius Caesar and Augustus, and the gens claudia, a very wealthy and powerful patrician family. Livia never bore Augustus any children, but she had two sons of her first marriage, Tiberius and Drusus.

Julia could not inherit Augustus' position, as it included military command, public office and priesthoods that were all reserved for men, but she would play a central part in the dynastic policies of Augustus, whether she liked it or not!

Augustus' first chosen heir was his nephew Marcellus, son of his sister Octavia from her first marriage. Marcellus was presented to the public in much the same way Julius Caesar had introduced Octavian. Marcellus took part of Octavian's triumphs in 29 BCE, and in 25 BCE he was married to Julia. By Augustus' intervention he was allowed an accelerated public career, and he was allowed by the senate to candidate for the consulship ten years early, just as had Octavian twenty years before.

In 23 BCE Augustus fell gravely ill. Apparently he judged Marcellus too young for the position of princeps at the time, and expecting to die, he gave his signet-ring to Agrippa, who had the necessary experience and capacity to be princeps. Augustus recovered from his illness, but Marcellus died later that same year.

Augustus must have understood that his life's work was in jeopardy if he died while the designated heir was too young and unprepared for the burden and duties of being princeps. His next choice of heir was more conservative. Agrippa was married to Julia, thus be coming Augustus' son-in-law and closest male relative, and in the following years they had two sons, Gaius (20 BCE) and Lucius (17 BCE). Both were adopted by Augustus and given the additional name of Caesar, hence enforcing the impression that the lineage of Agrippa was the preferred line of succession. The situation was complicated by the presence of the two adult sons of Livia, Tiberius and Drusus, who both held public office and military commands.

Marcus Agrippa died in 12 BCE and Tiberius, being the elder and most experienced of the potential heirs, took his place. Within a year he was married to Julia, but the marriage was not a happy one and brought no children. The relationship between Augustus and Tiberius was also troublesome and apparently Tiberius fell from grace in 6 BCE and was exiled to Rhodes.

In the following years all the alternative heirs to Augustus died. Drusus had died in 9 BCE, Lucius Caesar died in 2 CE and Gaius Caesar in 4 CE. Consequently, Tiberius was rehabilitated, being the sole candidate left. Augustus forced him to adopt the young Germanicus, grandson of Livia through Drusus and of Octavia and Marcus Antonius through Antonia the Younger. Germanicus united the gens julia and the gens claudia once again.

When Augustus died in 14 CE, Tiberius was the first in the line of succession and hence the next emperor. Germanicus died in 19 CE, leaving the question of succession unsolved in the long term. It would be a problem that would haunt the empire for a long time to come.

Augustus was buried in the mausoleum he had build for himself in the Campus Martius.

This article has been split into 7 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Civil War
  3. Showdown with Marcus Antonius
  4. The Augustan Principate
  5. The Problem of Succession
  6. Literature and Links
  7. Photographs

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Copyright © 2005 René Seindal, last changed 2005-11-20

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