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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. The name. -The Lat. name Augustus occurs only once in the Revised Versionof the NT, namely in  Luke 2:1. The word, cognate with augur , had a sacred ring about it, having been applied ( a ) to places and objects which either possessed by nature or acquired by consecration a religious or hallowed character; ( b ) to the gods. It was a new thing to apply it to a human being, and the Senate felt and intended it to be so, when it conferred the title upon Octavian on 16 Jan., 27 b.c. By this title they went as near to conferring deification upon a human being as robust Italian commonsense would allow. ‘It suggested religious sanctity and surrounded the son of the deified Julius with a halo of consecration’ (Bury, A History of the Roman Empire , 1893, p. 13). The official Gr. equivalent of Augustus was Σεβαστός. It is noteworthy that Luke in his own Greek narrative keeps the Latin word, whereas he puts the Greek Σεβαστός into the mouth of Festus ( Acts 25:21;  Acts 25:25; Authorized Version‘Augustus,’ Revised Version‘the emperor,’ Revised Version margin ‘the Augustus’). The difference is important. A Greek Christian like Luke could only use the word Σεβαστός (which meant ‘to be worshipped,’ ‘worthy of worship’) of God Himself: being a Greek, writing his own language, he had not the same objection to the foreign word Augustus , and he had to be intelligible. The absence of θεός (‘god,’ diuus ), with the name of the deceased and deified Emperor in  Luke 2:1, is also perfectly consistent with the Christian attitude (on  Acts 27:1, see Augustan Band).

2. Life. -The Emperor of whom we commonly speak as Augustus was originally named Gaius Octavius [Thurinus], like his father, and was born on 22 Sept., 63 b.c., the year of Cicero’s consulship. The ancestral home of his race was Velitrae (modern Veletri) in the Volscian country, at no great distance from Rome. The family was equestrian and rich, the father of the future Emperor being the first of his race to enter the Senate. He had an honourable and successful official career, attaining to the praetorship and the governorship of the province of Macedonia. He died suddenly, and left three children, one of them the future Emperor (aged 4), whose mother was Atia. This Atia was the daughter of M. Atius Balbus and Julia, the sister of the great dictator Julius Caesar. Augustus was thus the grand-nephew of the dictator. He received the dress of manhood at 15, and was allowed to accompany his grand-uncle to Spain (47 b.c.), where he already showed the quality of courage. Soon after he was sent to Apollonia on the other side of the Adriatic, to pursue his studies. He was still there when the dictator was assassinated, on 15 March, 44 b.c. It was then that he revealed what was in him. Though only eighteen and a half years of age, he, having been adopted into the Julian family by the will of his grand-uncle, whose heir he was at the same time constituted, took the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and immediately left for Italy, to claim not only the private but also the public inheritance of his grand-uncle. His great career is best followed in the next section. His private and family history may be summed up here. As a young man he was betrothed to a daughter of P. Servilius Isauricus, but he broke off this engagement, and for political reasons married Claudia, step-daughter of Mark Antony, in her extreme youth. Her he immediately divorced, and afterwards Scribonia, his second wife. Immediately after the second divorce he robbed Tiberius Claudius Nero of his wife, Livia Drusilla (38 b.c.), and with her he lived all the rest of his life. His immediate household consisted of her, her two sons by her previous husband, the future Emperor Tiberius ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ), and Drusus, as well as his own daughter Julia, Scribonia’s child. Julia bore five children to the second of her three husbands, M. Vipsanius Agrippa, namely Gaius, Lucius, Agrippa, Julia, and Agrippina. Gaius and Lucius were adopted by their grandfather, but died early. All his direct descendants in fact died early or disgraced him, and he was forced to fall back on his step-son Tiberius for the succession. Drusus having perished in 9 b.c., Tiberius was compelled in his turn to adopt his nephew Germanicus. Augustus died 19 August, a.d. 14.

3. Official career. -The stages in Augustus’ official career may be summed up as follows. He was recognized by the Senate in 44 b.c.; received praetorian imperium against Antony, on 19 August made consul (though hardly twenty years of age), elected triumuir rei publicœ constituendœ (with Antony and Lepidus) for five years, 43; appointed augur , 37 (or later); first conferment of tribunicia potestas , 36; between 37 and 34 elected XVuir sacris faciundis  ; 30, fourth consulship (hence annually, with certain exceptions, until the 13th was reached in 2 b.c.); 27, title Augustus and imperial powers; 23, the tribunicia potestas conferred on him for life; 22, a special cura annonœ  ; 18, imperial powers renewed for 5 years; 16 (before this date), elected septemuir epulonum  ; 15, coinage of gold and silver for the Empire reserved to Emperor; 12, elected pontifex maximus  ; 8, imperial powers renewed for ten years; 2, received title of pater patriœ  ; a.d. 3, imperial powers renewed for ten years, and again in a.d. 13. The ‘deification’ took place on 17 Sept., 14.

4. Achievements. -This bare enumeration marks the steps by which the power of Augustus was gradually consolidated, and with it the Empire itself. The achievements of Augustus which led to this result can only he briefly enumerated. Amongst the most important, because without them nothing further could have been attained, are his military achievements. His military career, with few exceptions, was continuously successful. It began by the driving of Antonius into Gallia Transalpina (43 b.c.), and was followed up by the defeat of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi (42), the defeat of Sextus Pompeius (36), and the defeat of Cleopatra and Antonius at Actium (31). At this point civil war ends, all his Roman enemies and rivals are removed, and he can give attention to frontier problems. A succession of frontier wars ends in victory for the Romans: in 19 the Cantabri were exterminated, in 15 the Raeti and Vindelici were conquered. The German wars gave great trouble throughout the later part of his reign, in which most valuable help was rendered by his step-sons Tiberius and Drusus. In the earlier period Augustus was most fortunate in possessing such an able lieutenant as M. Vipsanius Agrippa.

In other respects also Augustus was extremely active-in the spheres of law, religion, architecture, and building. He did all he could to restore the sapped virtue of the Italians by his encouragement of family life and his attempts to recover the simplicity of the ancient Italian religion. He was a patron of literature, and was greatly helped in his aims by the writings of Virgil and Horace. In all his schemes for the betterment of Rome, Maecenas, an Etruscan knight, himself a patron of literature, was his right-hand man. Among the important statutes passed were the Lex Iulia de adulteriis (18 b.c.), the Lex de maritandis ordinibus , and the Lex Papia Poppœa -all in the interests of a worthy family life, which Augustus recognized to be the indispensable foundation of a truly great State. The Lex aelia Sentia (4 b.c.) regulated the status of manumitted slaves, a large class of growing influence in the State (see Claudius). Augustus’ interest in religion was shown by his acceptance of several sacred offices, as well as by the restoration of many decayed temples and rituals. His boast that he had found Rome made of brick and left it made of marble probably means no more than that he faced the (regular) brick core of buildings with marble slabs, but he certainly spent vast sums on building. Among the most important monuments of his reign are the Portus Iulius (37 b.c.), the Templum Diui Iuli (29), the temple of Apollo on the Palatine Hill, equipped with public libraries of Greek and Latin literature (28), and the theatre of Marcellus (11). The personal ability of Augustus is sometimes unjustly depreciated. It may be questioned if he owed more than inspiration to his grand-uncle.

5. Administration. -The Emperor’s administration covered not only the whole of Italy, but the imperial (or frontier) provinces, where an army was required. He had financial agents also in the senatorial provinces. The great achievement of Augustus was that he ruled the Roman Empire as a citizen (though the chief citizen, princeps ), under constitutional forms. In theory the Empire ceased with the death of the Emperor, but under these constitutional forms he laid the foundations of a lasting despotism. Luke refers in  Luke 2:1 to a census of the whole Empire ordered by him. This was one of his administrative reforms, and the census recurred every 14 years. A census of Roman citizens, as distinguished from subjects of the Empire, was taken twice in his reign, in 28 and 8 b.c. Cf. articleCaesar.

Literature.-There are many vexed questions connected with the career of Augustus, which will make one always regret that T. Mommsen did not write the fourth volume of his Römische Geschichte , which was to cover Augustus’ reign; cf. however, the second edition of the Res Gestœ Divi Augusti (Berlin, 1883), edited by him; V. Gardthausen’s Augustus und seine Zeit , Leipzig, 1891ff. (2 parts, each in three volumes, first part text, second part notes), has not filled the gap. Chronology of chief events is best given by J. S. Reid in A Companion to Latin Studies (ed. J. E. Sandys, Cambr. 1910), 129ff. The theory of the Empire is best expounded in the same writer’s chapter in the Cambridge Mediœval History , i., Cambr. 1911; a splendid account is found also in H. F. Pelham, Outlines of Roman History , London, 1893; A. v. Domaszewski’s Gesch. der röm. Kaiser , 2 vols., Leipzig, 1909, vol. i. pp. 11-250, by a master of Roman history and antiquities; etc. The chief ancient authorities are the Monumentum Ancyranum , Suetonius’ Life of Augustus , Velleius Paterculus, Appian, Dio Cassius, and the early chapters of Tacitus.

A. Souter.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [2]

Augus'tus. (Venerable). Cae'sar, the first Roman emperor. He was born A.U.C. 691, B.C. 63. His father was Caius Octavius; his mother Atia, daughter of Julia, the sister of Julius Caesar. He was principally educated by his great-uncle Julius Caesar, and was made his heir. After his murder, the young Octavius, then Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, was taken into the triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus, and, after the removal of the latter, divided the empire with Antony. The struggle for the supreme power was terminated in favor of Octavianus by the battle of Actium, B.C. 31. On this victory, he was saluted imperator by the senate, who conferred on him, the title Augustus, B.C. 27.

The first link binding him to New Testament history is his treatment of Herod after the battle of Actium. That prince, who had espoused Antony's side, found himself pardoned, taken into favor and confirmed, nay even increased, in his power. After Herod's death, in A.D. 4, Augustus divided his dominions, almost exactly according to his dying directions, among his sons. Augustus died in Nola in Campania, Aug. 19, A.U.C. 767, A.D. 14, in his 76th year; but long before his death, he had associated Tiberius with him in the empire.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

AUGUSTUS . This name is Latin, and was a new name conferred (16th Jan. b.c. 27) by the Roman Senate on Caius Octavius, who, after his adoption by the dictator Caius Julius Cæsar, bore the names Caius Julius Cæsar Octavianus. The word means ‘worthy of reverence’ (as a god), and was represented in Greek by Sebastos , which has the same signification, but was avoided by   Luke 2:1 as impious. In official documents Augustus appears as ‘Imperator Cæsar Augustus.’ He was born in b.c. 63, was the first Roman emperor from b.c. 23, and died in a.d. 14. He was equally eminent as soldier and administrator, and the Empire was governed for centuries very much on the lines laid down by him. In   Luke 2:1 he is mentioned as having issued a decree that all inhabitants of the Roman Empire should be enrolled (for purposes of taxation). There is evidence for a 14-year cycle of enrolment in the Roman province of Egypt.

A. Souter.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [4]

Augustus ( Äu-Gŭs'Tus ), Venerable. A title given to the Cæsars by the Roman Senate, first applied in b.c. 27 to C. J. C. Octavianus. This was four years after the battle of Actium. Augustus was the emperor who appointed the enrollment,  Luke 2:1, causing Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born. He also closed the temple of Janus, in token of the rare occurrence, a universal peace; thus unconsciously celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace. He died a.d. 14, having two years before admitted Tiberius Cæsar to a share in the government. In  Acts 25:21;  Acts 25:25, the title (translated the emperor in. R. V.) refers to Nero.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [5]

emperor of Rome, and successor of Julius Caesar. The battle of Actium, which he fought with Mark Antony, and which made him master of the empire, happened fifteen years before the birth of Christ. This is the emperor who appointed the enrolment mentioned  Luke 2:1 , which obliged Joseph and the Virgin Mary to go to Bethlehem, the place where Jesus Christ was born. Augustus procured the crown of Judea for Herod, from the Roman senate. After the defeat of Mark Antony, Herod adhered to Augustus, and was always faithful to him; so that Augustus loaded him with honours and riches.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

Venerable, the first peacefully acknowledged emperor of Rome, began to reign B. C. 19. Augustus was the emperor who appointed the enrolment,  Luke 2:1 , which obliged Joseph and the Virgin to go to Bethlehem, the place where the Messiah was to be born. He died A. D. 14.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

Title given to the Roman Emperors after Augustus Caesar, named in  Luke 2:1 . In  Acts 25:21,25 the Augustus or Caesar at that time wasNero.

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]

 Luke 2:1 Acts 25:21 25:25

Easton's Bible Dictionary [9]

 Luke 2:1 Micah 5:2 Luke 3:1

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [10]

(venerable, Graecized Αὔγουστος .), the imperial title assumed by Octavius, or Octavianus, the successor of Julius Caesar, and the first peacefully acknowledged emperor of Rome. He was emperor at the birth and during half the lifetime of our Lord (B.C. 30 to A.D. 14), but his name occurs only once ( Luke 2:1) in the New Testament, as the emperor who appointed the enrolment in consequence of which Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, the place where the Messiah was to be born. (See Jesus). The successors of the first Augustus took the same name or title, but it is seldom applied to them by the Latin writers. In the eastern part of the empire the Greek Σεβαστός (which is equivalent) seems to have been more common, and hence is used of Nero ( Acts 25:21). In later times (after Diocletian) the title of "Augustus" was given to one of the two heirs- apparent of the empire, and "Caesar" to their younger colleagues and heirs- apparent.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [11]

ô - gus´tus Αὔγουστος , Aúgoustos ̌ :

(1) The first Roman emperor, and noteworthy in Bible history as the emperor in whose reign the Incarnation took place ( Luke 2:1 ). His original name was Caius Octavius Caepias and he was born in 63 bc, the year of Cicero's consulship. He was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar, his mother Atia having been the daughter of Julia, Caesar's younger sister. He was only 19 years of age when Caesar was murdered in the Senate house (44 bc), but with a true instinct of statesmanship he steered his course through the intrigues and dangers of the closing years of the republic, and after the battle of Actium was left without a rival. Some difficulty was experienced in finding a name that would exactly define the position of the new ruler of the state. He himself declined the names of rex and dictator , and in 27 bc he was by the decree of the Senate styled Augustus. The epithet implied respect and veneration beyond what is bestowed on human things: " Sancta vocant augusta patres: augusta vocantur Templa sacerdotum rite dicata manu ." - O vid Fasti. 609; compare Dion Cass., 5316

The Greeks rendered the word by Σεβαστός , Sebastós , literally, "reverend'"  Acts 25:21 ,  Acts 25:25 ). The name was connected by the Romans with augur - "one consecrated by religion" - and also with the verb augere . In this way it came to form one of the German imperial titles "Mehrer des Reichs" (extender of the empire). The length of the reign of Augustus, extending as it did over 44 years from the battle of Actium (31 bc) to his death (14 ad), doubtless contributed much to the settlement and consolidation of the new régime after the troubled times of the civil wars.

It is chiefly through the connection of Judea and Palestine with the Roman Empire that Augustus comes in contact with early Christianity, or rather with the political and religious life of the Jewish people at the time of the birth of Christ: "Now it came to pass in those days, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be enrolled" ( Luke 2:1 ). During the reign of Herod the Great the government of Palestine was conducted practically without interference from Rome except, of course, as regarded the exaction of the tribute; but on the death of that astute and capable ruler (4 bc) none of his three sons among whom his kingdom was divided showed the capacity of their father. In the year 6 ad the intervention of Augustus was invited by the Jews themselves to provide a remedy for the incapacity of their ruler, Archelaus, who was deposed by the emperor from the rule of Judea; at the same time, while Caesarea was still the center of the Roman administration, a small Roman garrison was stationed permanently in Jerusalem. The city, however, was left to the control of the Jewish Sanhedrin with complete judicial and executive authority except that the death sentence required confirmation by the Roman procurator. There is no reason to believe that Augustus entertained any specially favorable appreciation of Judaism, but from policy he showed himself favorable to the Jews in Palestine and did everything to keep them from feeling the pressure of the Roman yoke. To the Jews of the eastern Diaspora he allowed great privileges. It has even been held that his aim was to render them pro-Rom, as a counterpoise in some degree to the pronounced Hellenism of the East; but in the West autonomous bodies of Jews were never allowed (see Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire , chapter 11).

(2) For Augustus in  Acts 25:21 ,  Acts 25:25 the King James Version, see Emperor .

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [12]

Called at first


he first of the Roman Emperors or Cæsars, grand-nephew of Julius Cæsar, and his heir; joined the Republican party at Cæsar's death, became consul, formed one of a triumvirate with Antony and Lepidus; along with Antony overthrew the Republican party under Brutus and Cassius at Philippi; defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium, and became master of the Roman world; was voted the title of "Augustus" by the Senate in 27 B.C.; proved a wise and beneficent ruler, and patronised the arts and letters, his reign forming a distinguished epoch in the history of the ancient literature of Rome (63 B.C.-A.D. 14).

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [13]

Augus′tus (venerable), the title assumed by Octavius, who, after his adoption by Julius Caesar, took the name of Octavianus (i.e. Ex-Octavius), according to the Roman fashion; and was the first peacefully acknowledged emperor of Rome. He was emperor at the birth and during half the lifetime of our Lord; but his name has no connection with Scriptural events, and occurs; only once ( Luke 2:1) in the New Testament.