(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." --Ovid Fasti. 609; compare Dion Cass., 5316
The Greeks rendered the word by Sebastos, literally, "reverend'" (Acts 25:21,25). 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 regime 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 25:21,25 the King James Version, see EMPEROR.