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Augustus Caesar's Family Values

The political corruption and violence during Rome's republic didn't speak well for the virtue that the Roman people thought belonged to their state. In addition to his mendacity concerning the maintenance of the Republic and his making Rome great again, the first emperor, Augustus Caesar, started a crusade to maintain Rome's morality. He tried setting an example by dressing without extravagance and by living in a modest house. He called for the worship of those gods he thought had given him victory in battle, especially Apollo. He forbade the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis, and he forbade Druidism and fortune telling. He tried to persuade one of the foremost writers of his time, the poet Horace, to create a work comparable to Homer's Iliad that would inspire Romans to the worship of the state's gods and give the Romans pride in their history and their race. Horace was not interested, but the poet Virgil was. Virgil wrote the Aeneid, a story about the gods and the founding of the Roman race, a myth about their having descended from Trojans who had fled the flames of Troy.

Augustus had laws passed by his rubber-stamp Senate that he hoped would preserve Roman virtue by reducing breeding between Romans and non-Romans. The laws prohibited an indiscriminate emancipation of slaves, prohibited freed slaves from marrying Latins and prohibited Senators from marrying freed women.

To further what he saw as morality, Augustus taxed prostitution, and he made homosexuality a punishable offense. Adultery remained a crime, but it was no longer commonly punished by death. An adulterous wife and her lover could now be banished to different islands, with the woman obliged to wear the kind of short tunic worn by prostitutes.

Augustus's crusade satisfied those who feared that evil would come with abandoned religious traditions. Many females continued to grow up patriotically and dutifully moral, and virginity before marriage continued to be seen as highly desirable and moral. But with unmarried women endeavoring to remain virgins and married women constrained by the tough laws against adultery, males, married and otherwise, continued to seek sexual gratification and to some extent affection from prostitutes, and some from each other.

For Augustus a succession problem developed into a moral issue. Augustus was intent on keeping power within his family (as was common with the monarchism that had been detested by the Romans). After Julia's two previous husbands had died (each of whom had been designated as heir to Augustus's power) Augustus arranged a marriage between Julia and a newly adopted son and prospective heir, Tiberius. For this, Tiberius had to leave a happy marriage. The marriage between Tiberius and Julia turned out to be an unhappy match. Tiberius was often away, and Julia searched for love and sexual gratification outside her marriage. Augustus heard of her infidelities. He threatened her with death. Then he sent her to an island prison from which she was never to return, and he spoke of her as a disease of his flesh.

CONTINUE READING: Caligula, Nero and a Few Others

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