Saturday, 8 January 2011

Augustus Caesar

I could not resist yet another viewing of my favourite film of all time, Casablanca. One day I will find the time to reflect why I never fail to enjoy and always find something new to appreciate.

Another film I viewed again was Wall Street with Martin and Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Terence Stamp. Having earlier in the year seen the sequel I decided to remind myself of the original and was not disappointed.

The great surprise of January viewing todate has been the 200 min Anglo Italian production of Imperium, the life of Octavian who became Augustus Caesar. Peter O’Toole is brilliant in his role as the aged Emperor with Charlotte Rampling a great matching as his wife Livia, one of the great women of ancient history alongside Cleopatra played here by Anna Valle. Gerald Klein is Julius Caesar, and Massimo Ghini Mark Anthony. His daughter Julia is played by Vittoria Belvedere

The story switches between the early years of the Roman Empire AD and back to 46 BC when Octavius and his friend Marcus Agrippa (an architect builder at heart) turned general were imbued with ideas of genuine democracy and furthering the interests of all the people, and join Julius Caesar in Spain to battle against the troops of Pompey. The name Octavius went to non Roman Nobles who reached positions of state. Octavius although a nephew of Julius Caesar, and who became his adopted son, was the son of brought up simply at his father‘s village. His father was one time governor of Macedonia died when he was four, and his mother who had the Caesar family link remarried someone who claimed decadency from Alexander the Great but who had no interest in his step son who he arranged to be cared for by the boy’s Grandmother, the sister of Julius. When his grandmother died Octavius gave the funeral oration and this raised his profile with his mother and stepfather.
The film skips over this background and covers the determination which he showed with Agrippa to reach Caesar in Spain, survived a ship wreck and crossing hostile territory which is said to have drawn him to the attention of Julius. Having adopted him as his son and heir Julius decides that Octavius should have a triumphant entry on return to Rome and then with Agrippa and the son of a friend of Caesar should be sent to Macedonia for further military training and general education. He was therefore not in Rome when Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March. It was only then that Octavius discovered that he inherited two thirds of the estate. One of my early films was Julius Caesar (my GCE Shakespeare was Macbeth) and it was several decades before seeing a stage version by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford and then Newcastle.

In the film Octavius is portrayed as man only interested in furthering the vision of Julius Caesar of a united and peaceful Empire in which everyone had equal status. He claims no personal ambition which is to some extent is apportioned to his wife Livia whose ambition was to bring her son by her first marriage to be Emperor.

In the film Octavius has arranged the marriage of his daughter Julia by his first marriage to his friend Agrippa a man twice her age, and by who she had two sons. Octavius saw the future of the Empire in the hands of his sons and not the son of Livia who he regarded as weak. Julia has taken up with Mark Anthony’s son with Cleopatra Iullus who initially takes up with the woman in order to gain access to the man who he regards as responsible for the death of his father, with a view to killing him. When after the death of Agrippa from fever on his way home, Octavius demands that Julia goes through a new marriage convenience with Livia’s son and she rebels, he explains the background and why the marriage is essential adding that he will arrange for her new husband to be outposted from Rome and that she can continue her love affair discretely. This is the core story of the film alongside his vision of a stable and peaceful empire..

According my immediate research Octavius was much more ambitious and calculating that the film portrayal. He is known to have commandeered 700 million sesterces stored at Brundisium for funding the campaign against Parthia on his way back to Rome with a view to establishing his position in society, although the money is said to have been subsequently used to fund the campaign against Mark Anthony rather than personal wealth. He drew on Julius Caesar veterans to build up his own forces after Mark Anthony had taken the greater part of the available army on the mission to Partha and the bed of Cleopatra, following on the earlier experience of Julius. In Rome the two heir’s of Caesar competed for ascendancy with Mark Anthony refusing to pass over the inheritance. Octavius used his popularity to build up his position in Rome while Mark Anthony was abroad.

In the film there is only brief mention of this period in which Anthony with Lepidus built up their power along that of Octavius to create the Second Triumvirate and the persecution of those who had brought Julius down. The situation in Rome made stable Anthony went to Egypt while Lepidus went to Africa. In Rome Octavius popularity vanished as he forcibly resettled veterans of the Macedonian campaign by confiscating lands.

It is said that Octavius married the older first wife in order to enhance his position with the Roman Nobles but little over a year just as his daughter was born, he divorced and remarried the love of his life Livia. Not only Tiberius born to Livia by the time she was introduced to Octavius but she was pregnant with her second son Nero( not the subsequent Emperor), whose existence is not mentioned in the film.

In Egypt Cleopatra bore Anthony three children but to avoid civil war with Octavius, he agreed to marry his sister Octavia with whom he had two daughters. The two men extended the Triumvirate for a further five years in order to defeat Pompeius and pursue the campaign against Parthia. With the surrender of Lepidus, control of the Empire was divided between Octavius and Anthony.

In both this film and the great Hollywood epic, Cleopatra, she is shown as the ambitious one seeking acceptance as his legitimate wife. This enables Octavius to use her ambitions to push the senate to support him against Anthony. In the film as Octavius gains access to the secret Will of Anthony in which he declared his sons by her as his heirs and plans to build a tomb in Alexandria for himself and his queen when they died. The events of the sea and land battles between Anthony and Cleopatra and Octavius and Agrippa are well documented as well as the suicide of Anthony in the arms of Cleopatra followed by her death through the poison of the Asp. To secure his position Cleopatra’s son to Julius is killed but he allows the children with Anthony to live.

After defeating Anthony and Cleopatra, he had Agrippa returned to Rome where they were appointed joint consuls. He relinquished power over the Roman provinces and their armies back to the Senate. However this was a political move to ingratiate and soon they were calling on him to take active control of the Empire. He therefore became a popular dictator because overall he did bring stability, peace and justice within the Empire. It was not an easy position to maintain. In 22BC there was a grain shortage in Rome which brought him unpopularity ( shown in the film) and there were continuing problems until he appointed someone in charge of securing sufficient food for the capital in AD 8.In the film it is Agrippa who builds a great viaduct to bring fresh water into Rome for drinking via fountains and irrigation of farming land.

Livia’s son grew up and was given a triumphant return to Rome after victories in Germanica in 7BC. Augustus Caesar as he had now become, reinterpreted his vision as peace within territories once they were conquered. His troops took what is today Spain and Portugal. His empire enveloped what is today Switzerland, Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia, extended the borders in Africa to the East and the South, moved into Judea and Syria. Modern Turkey was converted into the Empire without force.

There is little disagreement that having secured the Empire he provided the basis for Roman rule for the next 1500 years (for better and worse, given the behaviour of his immediate successors). He created a standing army of 28 legions, 170000 men and the Praetorian Guard. He introduced a standard form of taxation throughout the Empire, based on population census and increased the total revenue under his and Rome’s control. His abolished the use of private tax collectors and created a civil service cadre. The month of August was named after him. He was directly responsible for many great building works including the Pantheon by Agrippa.

In the film there is reference by Augustus to his legacy as he lays on his death bed and during his attempt to explain and convince his daughter why he has to put the interests of Rome before his and her own. In the film he survives one assassination attempt by the allay of his daughter’s lover wearing a disguised leather safety vest.

It was when he became ill in 23BC that he said to have concentrated on his succession and decided that his only child, Julia should marry Agrippa who was appointed head of the Eastern half of the Empire based at Samos in Aegean. In the film Julia appears to have only given birth to two sons but in fact she had five children and it was through her daughter Agrippina, the elder, that she became the grandmother of the Emperor’s Nero and Caligula both of whose rule and lives severely damaged Rome‘s reputation in history.

I have so far failed to establish the authenticity of the film plot in which after Julia has been raped by her husband after she fails to be discrete in her relationship with the son of Mark Anthony, and she expresses her anger to the son and wishes that her father is dead. This provokes the son to attempt to kill Augustus and although his plan is overheard by Livia’s son she tells hims to let events takes their course, seeing this an opportunity to implicate Julia as well as gain power for son, and through him, herself. Hearing the cries of her husband under attack she tells her son to rescue him which he does thus earning the gratitude of Augustus who orders the banishment of Julia away from her children. His plans for her male sons end when both die of fever without issue, thus leaving the way for Livia’s son, Tiberius. According to the film he is reconciled with his daughter on the death bed at the age the age of 77.

Throughout the film I felt the performance of Livia was being influenced by her portrayal in that great BBC series I Claudius. She has appeared in many other films and series as well as literature. This includes ITV’s the Caesars and the BBC/HBO series Rome. Having played a major role in making her son Emperor he is said to have grown impatient with her continuing use of power, so he gave up, literally, and left Rome for retirement, refusing to return when she became fatally ill and sending Caligula to give the funeral oration. I enjoyed the film and the research, wishing that I had the time to pursue several arising interests.

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