Centre for Continuing Education

Augustus Course: Rome's First Emperor

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

The world as we know it today has been shaped by events of the past. Learn about history the smart way with History courses at the University of Sydney.

This history course examines the life and achievements of Rome’s first Emperor Octavian, who assumed the title of Augustus. The grand nephew of Julius Caesar, Augustus is famous for his conflict with Mark Antony and Cleopatra and his subsequent acquisition of absolute power in Rome. His rule brought peace and prosperity after years of civil war, but at the loss of political freedom – Augustus created a hereditary monarchy disguised as a Republic. The legacy of Augustus was an imperial system that lasted more than 400 years.

Course content

This history course covers the following topics:

Gaius Octavius: youth and upbringing

The future Emperor Augustus was born from rather humble and provincial stock but his father had had the good fortune to marry into the elite Patrician family of the Julii, making Gaius the grandnephew of Julius Caesar. Often ill, Gaius was often close to death and acquired very little military experience in his youth. Raised in status, Gaius would be chosen as the heir of his famous relative.

Octavian: from the death of Caesar to Philippi

The assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC placed young Gaius in a precarious situation. Heir to his great-uncle’s fortunes and troops, he adopted the name Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian and without true constitutional power he divided the Roman world with Mark Antony and Marcus Aemelius Lepidus. All political opponents were eradicated in a series of proscriptions while the assassins of Caesar were finally defeated at the Battle of Philippi.

Divi filius: from Philippi to Actium

The defeat of Caesar’s assassins left Octavian and Mark Antony rulers of the Roman world which was now divided between them. Antony fell under the spell of Cleopatra with dreams of an eastern Empire, and confrontation with Octavian was inevitable. The two sides met in 31 BC at the Battle of Actium. Octavian’s forces were victorious and he was now master of the Roman world.

Augustus: triumph and control

Octavian was soon awarded the title of Augustus ‘The Revered One’. In a carefully stage managed show, he appeared to hand back all power to the Senate, but in truth he was master of Rome. The following years were ones in which Augustus searched for an appropriate member of his family to succeed him, and he was not averse to using his only daughter as a pawn in his political machinations.

Res Gestae: founder of the Roman Empire

The final years of the reign of Augustus saw military failures and a decision to halt future expansion of the Empire. Personal tragedy would also see the death of most of his true male descendants and the exile of his only daughter Julia. His step-son Tiberius, son of Livia, was the only candidate left who could assume power. His testimonial to the Roman people was the Res gestae, an account of his actions while in power. Augustus had changed the world and founded a new political system which would last 400 years.

Intended Audience

This history course is suitable for personal interest adult learners, university students and active retirees who have an interest in history, ancient Roman history or Emperor Octavian.

Delivery Style

This history course in Sydney will be delivered as a face-to-face, interactive lecture where questions and open discussions will be encouraged.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion