The Augustan Empire

In one of the most notorious events of history, Julius Casar was murdered on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. A predictable political confusion ensued, but thirteen years and three civil wars later, Octavian-Caesar's adopted son and heir-was Rome's sole and undisputed ruler. His naval victory at Actium in 31 B.C., which had spurred the suicide of Anthony and Cleopatra, gave him Egypt. Thus Rome had complete control of the grain trade throughout the Mediterranean and, as importantly, unrestricted access to the traffic of oriental materials flowing into Alexandria via the Red Sea and the nearby Arabian peninsula.

Control of various cities such as Palmyra and Petra on the fringe of the eastern frontier, gave Rome access to the Silk Route to China. The rich farmlands of Spain and Gaul supported the numerous colonia where Roman war veterans had settled during previous decades. From southeastern Europe came gold; from Greece came marble; from north Africa came wild animals (for spectacles in the amphitheater), fine woods and olive oil. The city of Rome lacked for nothing.

In 27 B.C. Octavian accepted the title of Augustus, and though he declined other honors that might have implied he held dictatorial power, in effect he was now Rome's first emperor.