How Did Octavian Gain Power in Rome?

C. Julius Caesar Octavianus, also known as Octavian, was able to gain power in Rome by virtue of being named in Julius Caesar’s will as the late ruler’s heir and posthumously adopted son (formerly grand-nephew). Although this created tensions between Octavian and Mark Antony, who had already taken leadership following Caesar’s assassination, Octavian’s natural prowess for politics and strategy, not to mention the Senate’s distrust of Mark Antony, gave him an advantage.

Octavian left Rome for central Italy amid the tensions and, using his authority as rightful heir to Caesar, amassed troops of his own. Later, seizing an opportunity to become consul in the wake of the former two consuls’ deaths, Octavian returned to Rome and was elected to the office in 42 B.C., continuing to invoke the authority of Caesar’s name for support.

His position was still insecure, however, and as a result he agreed to a Triumvirate agreement, sharing consul duties with Mark Antony and Lepidus.

The Battle of Actium in 31 B.C., in which Mark Antony was defeated and subsequently committed suicide with Cleopatra, was the precursor to Octavian’s rise to absolute power. At just 32 years of age he rose to control Rome’s affairs as perennial consul.

As Augustus Caesar, he presented himself to the Roman people as their savior, akin to Rome’s mythological founders, Aeneas and Romulus.