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Octavian (31 BC - 14 AD), later called "Augustus" was the military hand behind the final fall of the Hellenistic kingdoms. His defeat of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC caused both to commit suicide in Egypt (30 BC), and in this way the Ptolemaic dynasty was extinguished and the last of the Hellenistic kingdoms was now in Roman hands. Octavian turned his attention toward establishing a new constitution for the now unrivalled "Roman empire". He understood the new situation and its needs: there had to be a strong hand; there could be no overt absolutism, which would alienate the conservative forces in Rome; there had to be a rebuilding of morale and gaining of support of the governing class; and there was need for order and stability. The new ruler's official version of the constitution of 27 BC stated that Octavian's position rested on his exceeding everyone in auctorita, a word meaning a combination of innate power and prestige, and refers to one whom the people naturally followed. It continued: "When I had extinguished the flames of civil war, after receiving by universal consent the absolute control of affairs, I transferred the republic from my own control to the will of the senate and the Roman people. For this service on my part I was given the title Augustus by decree of the senate" (the complete text of this constitution, the res gestae, is preserved in an inscription in the Temple to Rome and Augustus in Ancyra). "Augustus" was an ancient word suggesting the numinous and something more than human, but of no precise category. By this title, Octavian has continued to be known. The contributions of Augustus for early Christianity include peace, economic prosperity, improved communications, stable government, and a sense of renewal. The literature of this era attests to the celebration of a new age. There was a strong sense of a new beginning, an old era of upheaval and warfare ended and a new era of peace and prosperity beginning. Christian authors later concurred with this sentiment, but saw in it an even deeper meaning of renewal, for Jesus had been born under Augustus' reign (Luke 2:1).

Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at

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